Monday, October 27, 2008

Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

In London of 1384, Crispin Guest is a man adrift in a rigidly defined society. Left with only his life, he’s a disgraced knight, convicted of treason, stripped of his rank and his honor for plotting against Richard II. Having lost his patron and his friends, with no trade to support him, Crispin has turned to the one thing he still has--his wits--to scrape a living on the mean streets of London.

Crispin is called to the compound of a reclusive merchant who suspects his wife of infidelity and wants Crispin to look into the matter. In dire need of money, he discovers that the wife is indeed up to something, but when Crispin comes to inform his client, he is found dead--murdered in a sealed room, locked from the inside. Now Crispin finds himself in the middle of a complex plot involving dark secrets, international plots, and a missing religious relic--one that lies at the heart of this impossible crime.

Being the medieval lover that I am I really couldn't let the opportunity of reading Jeri Westerson's new release pass by me. The fact that I had never heard of the term "Medieval Noir" before made me even more curious about this book.

I'm happy to say that I did enjoy reading it very much!

There's something different from what I'm used to in my medieval readings. Westerson does a great job of creating the medieval world of the London of the lower classes. Although some of the higher noble personalities of the time are mentioned and Crispin Guest thinks of himself as a knight it is really the world of the common folk - merchants, tavern owners, servants - that comes alive in the book. One of things that struck me has different is that the story has a very lively rhythm, the action is fast paced yes but also the characters reactions and way of thinking seems to be more practical than what we are used to. There's not much of the ceremonial and manners usually connected with the medieval nobility, here people are trying to survive and sometimes it's their quick thinking and their wit that saves them.

Guest is a somewhat conflicted character. Once a knight, he was stripped of his title by the king after a treason accusation. He recognises how unlikely it is that he has survived to tell the story, most people would have been executed, and knows he lives due to the interference of his former Lord, John of Gaunt. I did really like Crispin Guest very much. I liked how he was a less than perfect character and how Westerson let us into his head, his doubts about his place in the world and how that influenced his dealings with the people around him.

Without family or fortune and having to support himself he resorts to do occasional investigative works for whoever asks thus winning the nickname The Tracker. As the story opens he is asked by a London merchant, Nicholas Walcote, to spy on his wife and discover if she is indeed cheating on him. But when Crispin goes back to report on the case the man is inexplicably dead and Guest is immersed in a murder investigation.

I thought the mystery was well thought of and well plotted. The author keeps us guessing at what really happened and as the action progresses we realise the intrigue is a lot more complicated than we initially thought of. From the intrigues surrounding the cloth trade to danger brought by the possession of the Mandollyn, the true image of Christ, Westerson spins an absorbing tale. The fact that Guest is such a dark character himself, unable to forget what he once was and to accept what he is reduced to, and the fact that he lives in a world of intrigue and danger where only his strong character and investigative skills helps him being ahead of the bad guys as well as an ambivalence in him between good and bad make the term medieval noir seem totally appropriate. His relationship with the Sheriff of London for instance is almost a self punishing one even if in the end there's a sort of truce between the two men.

I'm looking forward to follow Crispin Guest through more adventures in the future and I'm glad this book is number one in a planned series.

Highly recommended to mystery and medieval lovers!

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