Edition: Headline, 1997
Review number: 160
The fourth of Michael Jecks' medieval Devonshire mysteries has a sombre tone, particularly as it starts with one of the major series characters, Simon Puttock, and his wife mourning the death of their young son. Throughout the novel, the bulk of the detection falls on the other major character, Sir Baldwin Furnshill; Simon is much less able to maintain an equal partnership as he mourns - a realistic touch which really helps deepen his character. (The lack of a third dimension to the series characters has so far been a bit of a problem for Jecks.)
The mystery itself is straightforward enough. A troop of mercenaries, led by the false knight (false in that he pretends to have been knighted) Sir Hector de Gorsenne, are staying in the small town of Crediton on their way from Edward II's Scottish wars to the south coast and France. They take over an entire tavern, and one of the tavern wenches, obsessed by dreams of a rich husband, ignores the warnings of the owner of the tavern that mercenaries are dangerous. From the first moment she appears on the scene, it is obvious that she will be a murder victim. Her character doesn't work so well; surely no woman in a tavern in the fourteenth century could have been stupid enough to believe that a mercenary possessed the virtues of one of the knights of the Round Table?
So, for a change, the series characters are more convincing and the medieval background less so. Jecks has now shown that he can manage to write both well; all he has to do is succeed with both at the same time. (Mind you, Ellis Peters managed to be hugely successful with the Cadfael series, which managed to do neither as far as I was concerned.)