Death at the Lammas feast

I thoroughly enjoyed The Lammas Feast by Kate Sedley, another in her "Roger the Chapman" historical crime fiction series set in the 15th century. This was the first of her novels that I had come across, and it was a great introduction to the series.

Roger the Chapman lives in the busy port of Bristol with his wife and children, and close to his former mother-in-law, with whom he and his wife retain friendly relations.

Bristol is gearing up for the Lammas Feast; when one of the biggest annual fairs in Britain is about to hit Bristol. When Jasper Fairbrother, one of the most unpleasant men in Bristol is murdered shortly before the feast, no-one is too bothered, but Roger is concerned that suspicion for the murder appears to have fallen on a Breton, who may be a Lancastrian spy. Roger feels that the murder is being used as an excuse to arrest the spy, while the real culprit is going to go unpunished. His suspicions are confirmed when the spy dies under mysterious circumstances; but when one of Roger's oldest and dearest friends is killed, and he himself comes under suspicion, he has no choice but to investigate the matter.

I really loved this murder mystery. It was light and easy to read, but there were also lots of positive things to say about it too. The crimes themselves were well constructed and thought out. If some of the characterisation is a little thin, most of it is excellent, especially around Roger and his family, and supporting characters such as the Overbecks. There's a real feeling of tension, and occasionally evil in the novel.

Most of all, I loved Sedley's depiction of the bustling medieval metropolis of Bristol. The city came wondrously to life, and was really a character in its own right. There was a great sense of place about this novel, and as someone who spent their childhood the other side of the border from Bristol, I loved the historical element here, which explained so much more than I ever previously knew about the city, its life, and its place in British history.

There's something for everyone here, whether you're a crime fiction fan, into historical fiction, or just like reading about British history. Sedley has evidently been heavily influenced by those two greats of historical crime fiction, Ellis Peters and Lindsey Davis. Her comic touch doesn't quite reach Falco's heights, though Roger the Chapman's family in their loyal family unit is very reminiscent of the Falco's; but she is funny, clever and, as far as the historical side is concerned, absolutely fascinating. Well worth a read, especially if you're looking for something that's not too serious or taxing, but is still fun and informative.


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