Cruel as the Grave: A Medieval Mystery
© 1998 Sharon Kay Penman
Justin de Quincy has a problem. Several problems, actually. Chiefly, there’s the fact that his king is presumed captured overseas, and possibly dead, while the king’s malicious brother John is actively trying to seize the throne against the wishes of Justin’s master, Richard’s mom — Eleanor of Aquitaine. Justin’s lover was recently exposed as a concubine and spy for John, so he’s a bit moody about that, and now some friends are asking him to look into the sudden death of their daughter, who appears to have been raped and murdered in a church cemetery. The Queen wants Justin to sneak into one of John’s castles, presently under siege, to convey a message, so juggling that, the case, and the lover, will take some doing. The result is a diverting medieval mystery/spy thriller, though not one long enough to develop serious interest. The book read rather differently than Penman’s Here be Dragons, which combined historical narrative with nonfiction, though it does work in a few choice bits of historical detail — the Hue and Cry being raised, for instance. I would have been more attached to the characters had I read the first volume in this trilogy (where Justin’s lover is exposed), but I didn’t realize at the time that this wasn’t a standalone. As it was, I enjoyed it quite well enough. Historical mysteries are a rare find; I don’t know of many others besides Cornwell’s Gallows Thief — and of course,Steven Saylor’s Gordianus series.