Monday 31 July 2017

Satin Cinnabar by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Amazon UK £3.20  £10.99
Amazon US $4.01 $16.99

This title was shortlisted for the July Book of the Month

mystery / romance
15th Century

"15th century England, the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth when the first Tudor King Henry VII took the throne from Richard III, the plots and sub-plots interweave, held together by the strong atmospheric medieval backgrounds and the depth of characterisation. With all the inevitable power struggle, politics and turmoil accompanying the beginning of the new Tudor dynasty.
On his escape from the abandoned battlefield, Alex, younger son of a slain lord, throws off his armour which would mark him as a knight of the defeated Yorkists. The Lady Katherine, having heard tales of marauding soldiers both vanquished and victorious, is dressed for safety as a boy. She and Alex, both in disguise, meet in unusual circumstances. 
Now the lords once loyal to King Richard are in danger of losing their titles, their property and their heads. Law and order seem under threat so Alex quickly goes into hiding. Taking refuge in the kitchens of old friends, he impersonates a servant. During his unorthodox sojourn in the kitchens, Alex encounters Katherine once again. Given in an arranged marriage, the lady is now reluctantly wedded to the new lord of the house. Alex and Katherine come face to face for the second time and begin a most unorthodox courtship..."

Thus is set the scene for what turns out to be a highly entertaining and skilfully written combination of romance and mystery. Alex is working 'under cover' as a servant - the minder of spices, a job which he knows nothing about but gives him adequate opportunity to be out of the house and off on his own (unusual for servants) whenever he chooses. Naturally, he is not spending all his time searching the London streets for expensive and exotic spices for the household cook to use in order to disguise his poor attempts at cooking! Oh no, Alex has far more important things to be doing...

But then there is a murder, and another one, interspersed with a death by natural causes, but gets mixed in with the other two - and Alex is accused of all three, with a charge of abduction and seduction thrown in to boot. 

The real murderer was fairly easy to spot, so Satin Cinnabar isn't really a 'who-dun-it' as such, and yes, you know there will be a happy ending, but that isn't the point. The intrigue and adventure of this entertaining read comes with who else was involved, and why, how Alex gets himself out of predicaments, what was the motive behind it all, and just how is the happy ending reached? All that is as much a part of enjoying a darn good romp of a read as unravelling who the murderer could be, and Satin Cinnabar is a darn good romp of a read. Barbara Gaskell Denvil tells a very good story, with enjoyable, believable characters all wrapped up in marvellous descriptive detail which made me sincerely grateful that I do not live in the squalor and stink of 1400s London. 

From the battlefield of Bosworth to Newgate Gaol via the exotic spice shops of London, I can confidently say that for the portrayal of detail of life in early Tudor London, Ms Denvil is among the very best of writers.

© Helen Hollick

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