Death in Exeter

Exeter Cathedral. Photographed around 1860.
It's always lovely to come across a new author who you quickly discover you are going to thoroughly enjoy. My joy in discovering Michael Jecks was slightly tempered by the fact that he's written over 30 novels and I've shamefully only just heard of him! It was an interesting experience reading City of Fiends, one of the most recent in his Knights Templar mystery series featuring Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and his friend Simon Puttock.

Don't be put off by the Knights Templar bit. There's nothing in the least weird or supernatural about this tale. It's a solid well-written historical novel, which also happens to be a beautifully constructed murder mystery. Bookhounders may remember my recent blog post on Donna Leon's A question of belief. I had loved Leon's earlier tales about Brunetti, but felt that the more recent ones were becoming stale as she struggles to find new stories in which to place her detective. There were no problems here with City of fiends which is as classy a murder mystery as you could hope to read.

Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and his companions are en route home to Exeter after a long time away. Hopes are high for a swift return to their families and a period of relative tranquility; but their arrival in Exeter coincides with a horrific murder. Meanwhile outlaws loyal to the former King are terrorising the Devon countryside. With Exeter in uproar, and a Sheriff who's unable to decide which King he wants to support Furnshill and his friends are going to have to make sure that justice is done....

So what did I like about this novel? Well, two very basic things really - it manages to be both an extraordinarily good historical novel, while still keeping crime-lovers happy. Not as easy a job as it might sound. I often find that historical thrillers tend to be either high on the history and low on the thrills or vice-versa, but Jecks gets the balance just right.

There was lots of historical information here that I didn't know before, although some of it, I suspect may be based on not altogether reliable sources. But as a picture of England at a time of great change - the abdication of Edward II and the ascent of his son, Edward III, and particularly of an ordinary English city in the process of transition, it takes a bit of beating. Meanwhile the crime story itself is clever, and keeps you guessing nearly to the end. 

A top class tale, and an author that I suspect you're going to see an awful lot more of on Bookhound. For more info on Edward II (not altogether unbiased), have a look at the Edward II blog. I love the idea that a medieval King can have his own blog - I wonder what he would have thought about it.


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