Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Mortal Bane by Roberta Gellis

Magdalene la Batarde is the madam of the Old Priory Guesthouse in Southwark. She and her women are expected to engage in a number of sinful delights, but bloody murder isn't one of them--until Baldassare, the messenger, dies.Though Baldassare wasn't a regular client of the Old Priory Guesthouse, Magdalene and her women refuse to allow his death to go unavenged. Of course, their efforts aren't completely altruistic. Chances are if they don't find the killer, they will be assumed guilty because they are whores, and they will be gutted and hanged.Into this sea of intrigue steps the handsome Sir Bellamy of Itchen.

The bishop of Winchester, who was served for many years by Baldassare, orders Bellamy, his most trusted knight, to investigate the murder and tells him that Magdalene has been accused of the crime. Bellamy is instantly captivated by his chief suspect but is also convinced that she is hiding something. Sure that she is involved in the messenger's death right up to her beautiful eyebrows but unable to believe she's a killer, Bellamy must find out how and why Baldassare died--or watch the mysterious Magdalene meet her fate on the gallows.

As you probably already know I am one of those people who thinks Roberta Gellis cannot write a bad book, some less good yes but never a bad one. I am glad to report then that I really loved reading A Mortal Bane and it definetely joins the group of her good books.

It is a medieval murder mystery set in a whorehouse located in an old priory that the Bishop of London has let to Magdalene La Batarde. Magdalene was once a whore herself but now she just controls the business, checks that everything is in order for her "guests" who come and visit her women. All of the women have some disability, one is deaf, another is blind and so on... Madalene provides them with a ceiling and they all seem reasonably happy with their lot. But one day one of their visitors is murdered in the church next door. Magdalene just knows that the whores will be the first ones to be blamed so she decides to conduct a private investigation. When the victim is revealed as a papal messenger even the Bishop of London is called upon to discover the culprit.

I really enjoyed reading about these people, Magdalene was a bit reserved at first and we get to know her better as the action progresses. The whores are treated more superficially and we don't know all of them all that well although I suppose that can happen in future books. Sir Bellamy of Itchem is the Bishop of London' man, charged with investigating the crime he starts to feel a bit jealous of the visits to Magdalene's house till he discovers she only manages the business. And there's also William of Ypres, Stephen's man in the war against Matilda which gives us a glimpse of the politics of the period, he is also Magdalene's protector which pleases Bellamy a bit less... The characters were interesting and engaging and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next.

I have no idea if whores could rent from the church but I think Gellis wrote a compelling story that seemed to me with a believable medieval atmosphere. The morals of the time, from church members and otherwise are called into question and there are several twists and turns before the culprit is finally found. As a whole a really interesting story. I will be looking forward to read the next books in the series.

Grade: 4/5


  1. This sounds like a unique, intriguing premise for a novel about medieval England. I enjoyed this review!

  2. I like Gellis' medievals. That said, you might change your mind about not being able to write a *bad* book when you get to the English Heiress series. The middle one was excrutiating.

  3. Stephanie I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    Misfit it's true that I haven't read those yet. That bad uh? ;-)

  4. There are so many aspects of this book that intrigue me, and I loved your review. I am off to scout out my own copy of this great sounding book! Thanks!

  5. This sounds great, and I enjoyed your review.