Knight, Bernard, - 'The Noble Outlaw'
Set in Exeter in the 12th century, this series features Crowner John who is the coroner for the area, following a successful career in warfare supporting Richard the Lionheart in his travels across Europe. In THE NOBLE OUTLAW, the latest in the series, Crowner John has a case of murdered guildsmen to investigate as well as having to contend with some of the political shenanigans of the day and the reappearance of his brother-in-law's ability to cause consternation all round. Life was not so very different in some ways, all those centuries ago...
The novel starts when Crowner John is called out to the well-preserved body of a man discovered in an Exeter building that is being converted into a school, at the direction and with the investment of his brother-in-law. The brother-in-law believes that someone is trying to jeopardise his chances of success in these educational endeavours and that the body was a plant. Later another guildsman's body is found and then another. Crowner John's wife is also attacked, with the attacker making sure he voiced his opinion that a certain outlaw hiding out on Dartmoor was to blame for the deaths. However, the outlaw was a man of high repute during the wars, and was conveniently reported as dead by Crowner John's brother-in-law and his cohort de Pomeroy when they took over his manor, throwing out the wife and kinsmen. So we have two strands to the plot here: the nasty murders and the fate of the outlaw, who has surely been a victim of opportunistic greed. Crowner John has more than one mystery to solve...
Knight is rich and vivid in his descriptions of place, clothes worn, food eaten and prepared, the comforts (or lack of) in dwellings, the effects of the seasons - with this novel set in the winter.
John is an irascible, sometimes very grumpy man in an "enforced" marriage to Matilda, with both existing alongside one another like tectonic plates that rub occasionally; never the twain shall meet in any sort of ongoing harmony. Both carve out their own lives in a marriage of convenience with Matilda seeking the church as refuge and John seeking the company of his Welsh mistress, Nesta. Nesta presides over a local inn after some financial help from John in securing it, following the death of her husband. Both John and his hound are regulars at the inn.
The plot has nicely interwoven threads that raise more questions as the novel continues, until we enter the final denouement when it all comes at a pace to a final resolution. This is a splendid mystery novel that reflects its times. And how matters will be resolved remains a tense question until the bitter end.
Fans of the series will be pleased to know that Bernard Knight has just written another Crowner John novel and agreed to a further one for delivery next year.