Murder mystery / Series
This is the ninth Sebastian Foxley adventure / investigation, set in 15th Century London. These books feature a medieval book producer or illuminator. Presented with a royal commission, Foxley is faced with decisions about font sizes, cover design etc. while struggling with worries about materials, resources, and time pressures, all the while uncertain whether he will be reimbursed for the work.
Recently widowed, and with two young children, an extended family, three employees and an apprentice to provide for, as well as a dog and a cat, his hands are full. On top of that, he is continually interrupted by all manner of people, like his prodigal, thieving brother, an incompetent artist of his acquaintance, the bishop of London, and his friend the bailiff, who needs help investigating a series of brutal murders.
Altogether a quite satisfying diverting read, although I would quibble with the flavour of English used throughout. It is written in the first person by Master Foxley himself who uses the word ‘be’, as in 'I be grateful', 'I be certain' and so on. It makes for slightly stumblesome reading but the trouble with writing in ‘Middle-English’, of course, is that actual Middle-English would be impossible to read today. What we have here is a patchwork of old and contemporary words and phrases that give a passable simulation of the sort of language of the period.
Anyway, the author is to be congratulated on carrying the uninitiated reader through the story. All of the backstories of the various characters were unknown to me, but this did not spoil my enjoyment of the book. Indeed, it whetted my appetite for more. Sebastian’s late wife, Emily, for example, appeared as a lost angel in the early chapters, only to be revealed as a nagging harridan later on. Sebastian himself comes across as a plodding, naïve milquetoast, something of an unreliable narrator, put upon by all and sundry. His brother is a thorough rogue, a wife-beating cheat and thief, which raises the question whether he has always been like this and whether he will continue his wicked ways in future books.
The plot is a little thin, but that is of no importance, given the richness of the detail of everyday life illustrated in the pages of this fine book.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© J J Toner