The mystery revolves around the theft of the magnificent Passio Christi, a precious bloodstone, a fist sized ruby which is an extremely important Christian relic and the death of Sir Robert Kilverby in a locked room who was the person holding it in safe custody. The Passio Christi is also linked to the Wyvern Company, who were the ones who had ‘found’ it during their exploits in the war in France. When one of the men in the Company is also found murdered, the mystery deepens and Friar Athelstan and Sir John Cranston, Coroner of London are called in to investigate.
This is the first time I have read a historical mystery. So, my review is based on my experience as a first time reader. In the beginning, while reading the book as I had to run to the dictionary every few minutes to look up words describing the various medieval settings, churches, etc. However, as the book progressed, I got more comfortable and was able to really get into the mystery. I don’t think this is a major hindrance, but I did need to be persistent to get to a place where the book became easier to read.
I also found the author to be somewhat overly descriptive. I don’t think this is an entirely bad thing. I did feel overwhelmed with the description of the churches and the architecture and had to skip over some parts in order for me to not lose the continuity of the story. But, I think it may be a necessary part of getting the medieval setting just right. I did feel like I was transported back to that age; I could literally see the ornate churches and the grim cities. I could feel all the people described to be actually here, living and breathing. The poor and the helpless, the rich and the famous, the crooks and the thugs, the priests and the soldiers, all felt extremely real. This, I think helped me get into the story and into this world, and really enjoy the book.
All the characters in the book are terrifically developed. There are two different places in which the story unfolds, and each place has a unique set of characters. A lot of them were blamed by me for one or more of the murders in the book as I kept progressing with the story. The ‘evil’ wife Helen, the overly loyal Crispin, the angelic daughter Alesia, the ruthless and dangerous Wyvern Company, the suspect Frenchman, Richer, all had reasons to be linked to the murders. I have one way of judging characters in a novel. The characters seem real to me when I can actually hear them speaking their dialogues in my head. These characters certainly passed this test.
The book is extremely well researched. Starting with the basic historical facts and creating a story which remains true to those is not easy to accomplish. The story felt like something which could have actually transpired at that time in history and none of the events are out of place. The use of groups like the Wyvern Company in a war and the way in which they would act terrorizing the people, looting and destroying everything in their path is well used. I also liked the way in which the author describes the aftereffects of the war on these soldiers. The ghosts which come back to haunt them and the regret they feel when their life is coming to an end had me sympathising for them to some extent.
The thing I liked about the mystery was that the author was able to keep the suspense going till the last few pages. There were parts of the mystery which never became clear enough for me to guess the culprits outright. The author has left enough misdirection and suspects to keep us guessing. Don’t get me wrong, all the clues were there, but putting them together was something I was not able to accomplish. I had an inkling of who the culprits were, but there was no way I was going to be able to prove it. That is the beauty of the story the author has created. Once the reasoning is explained, it all seems so simple; you end up wondering why you were not able to get it. Although I was not entirely surprised at who the culprits were in the end, I needed to understand how they had accomplished their crimes, how all the little clues left throughout the book came together and fit perfectly to complete the jigsaw.
This is exactly how any terrific mystery should end. With satisfaction and amazement!