Friday, October 16, 2009

Medieval Noir Returns

Did I mention I read a lot this summer? I also watched a lot of DVDs and Hulu, but we'll talk about that some other time.

Jeri Westerson was nice enough to let me have an advance copy of her wonderful new novel, Serpent in the Thorn, featuring her wonderfully tortured sleuth, Crispin Guest. Crispin is a medieval Sam Spade, although he looks more like Orlando Bloom on the cover, don't ya think? ;-)

Stripped of his title and his lands and servants after foolishly getting tangled up in a plot against then 10-year-old King Richard II, Crispin now ekes out a miserable living as "The Tracker." In fact, he's a forerunner of Sam Spade, the cynical, world-weary private eye from Noir fiction. Jeri calls her books "medieval noir," and for good reason. In attitude as well as luck (mostly all bad), Crispin is the perfect noir detective. As in her first Crispin book, there's a mysterious femme fatale who might know more than she's telling, and once again, Crispin stumbles upon an international political conspiracy that almost costs him his life.

We also get to learn a lot more about how Crispin came to such a low state. In Serpent in the Thorn, we get to meet one of his former co-conspirators in the treasonous plot against the king. Only this conspirator escaped detection and now lives the high life as captain of the king's archers. Not surprisingly, Crispin is determined to bring this former friend down and restore himself to favor with the king. The mystery involves a holy relic alleged to be the very crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ. Jeri does a fantastic job of recreating the religion-obsessed atmosphere of medieval Europe, and of exposing the hypocrisy that lay beneath that era's obsession with religious icons and faith. She paints a vivid picture of life on the mean streets of medieval London - and those streets were truly mean! This is an absorbing mystery with well-drawn characters, so pick up a copy if you enjoy historical fiction.

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