Blood Lance by Jeri Westerson is the fifth Crispin Guest medieval noir mystery (available October 16, 2012).
If you’re a history buff with a penchant for romantic suspense that borders on noir, Jeri Westerson delivers the goods. A touch of 14th century London. A murder and joust at London Bridge. A visit to Westminster. Finely wrought armour and a religious relic of inestimable worth. Geoffrey Chaucer, belligerent sheriffs, an unsuitable wench, a beloved but aging archbishop, and not-so-knightly knights. Read a few of the earlier books in the series first, however, or you’ll miss character development. In Blood Lance, histories are a little bit vague and possibly too numerous for newcomers to the series.
In this, the fifth book, Crispin Guest sees an armourer’s body fall from one of the buildings that line the length of London Bridge. Crispin does not believe the death was a suicide and investigates with his orphaned apprentice. They uncover the theft of a relic the dead armourer was paid to locate. The customer, the bedeviled and unhappy Sir Thomas, apparently suffers battle fatigue. Having once fought side by side with Sir Thomas, Crispin agrees to recover the artifact.
Crispin is an outcast worthy of the noir genre. I was intrigued by the premise: A nobleman is disgraced, stripped of his title and wealth. Reduced to poverty, he must eke out a living as a finder of stolen items and, occasionally, criminals. He’s a flawed character, too proud to accept the squalor he cannot escape, too romantic to overcome the wiles of women who use and abuse him, and too steeped in his own code of honor to avoid peril.
“Thomas,” said Crispin without thinking. When his mind caught up, he found, to his shame, that he was obliged to bow. Bow to a man who had sometimes been his equal on the lists and in battle. But a man who had not been his equal in social standing. If anything, he had been lower than Crispin. Yet now it was Crispin who bowed, and not Sir Thomas.
Sir Thomas’s face showed that he recognized the irony, too. He simply stood, staring at his onetime friend, unable to say anything for his surprise.
. . . .
“But . . .” Sir Thomas looked him over from head to foot. At least his coat was only a year old now, not the beaten and patched cotehardie he had worn for years. But his stockings had seen better days and the soles of his shoes were loose and flapping. He wore only a dagger at his side, not a sword, not as Sir Thomas sported, hanging from its frog at the stout leather belt.
Crispin was starkly aware of his only ornament, the signet ring upon his finger, a bauble he had denied himself for too many years. But the Guest arms belonged to him and, now more than ever, he felt the need to display them, if not on a surcote then at least on his family ring.
And a domestic scene:
Jack moved away from the hearth to fetch the wine jug from the back windowsill, poured some into a pan, and placed it over the trivet in the fire, crouching beside it. He grinned up at Crispin, chuckling. “You jumped into the Thames.”
Crispin rolled his eyes. “Yes, if a foolish thing has been done, no doubt it was me doing it.”
“I knew it was you. I would have laid down coin on it.”
“Perhaps you should wager next time.”
“Perhaps I will.” He rolled the wine in the pan, watching the steam feathering upward. Rising, he grabbed two bowls from the pantry shelf and poured the warmed wine into them; the larger steaming bowl he handed to Crispin.
“To your good health, sir,” said Jack, eyes crinkled in mirth as he raised his bowl.
Too often he is overly trusting, but Crispin finds that on this quest he can rely on no one but Jack. He and his friend, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, have a complex and charged relationship. The poet, a commoner, has overcome his class and won the nobility’s respect. In contrast, Crispin has hurtled from knighthood to the common classes and can’t win back the esteem he once took for granted.
Westerson does a terrific job depicting scene and interiors. But I was hungry for more about streets that seemed both literally and figuratively cloaked in mist. I wanted to walk with Crispin to his lodgings in the meat district called the Shambles, over the London Bridge that figured so prominently, to the tavern where he gleaned information, and to the stables where most of the criminal violence took place. I wanted to see what he saw, wished for both map and atmosphere, and felt a bit lost, taking numerous laps around the same neighborhoods without a feel for distance or direction.
What she does especially well is weave period detail with murder. The investigation and the crime itself could have taken place in no era or locale but that of medieval London.
This sweepstakes has ended.
Like historicals? Like noir? Not sure, and want to try it out? Comment for a chance to win one of ten Advance Review Copies of Blood Lance by Jeri Westerson! TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!
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Lois Karlin writes fiction and blogs at Women of Mystery. In the pursuit of authenticity she’s learned to dag sheep and take down a silo, and knows where to deep six a body in New York’s Hudson Valley.