Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Feast of Poisons by C. L. Grace

Kathryn Swinbrooke is now married to Colum Murtagh, and the newlyweds are called to the small town of Walmer by news of two deaths in the village, that of the blacksmith and his wife, both poisoned on the same day by two very different poisons, the blacksmith from his water-butt and his wife from a small barrel of new wine that they planned to drink with dinner that night. Kathryn is is called in because of her abilities as a doctor, and because the Lord of Walmer, Lord Henry Beauchamp, is meeting with representatives of King Louis the XI of France in a bid to stop the ongoing war with a permanent peace.

Since the King values Kathryn's sharp and agile mind, she has been called in to view the proceedings, especially since a secret cipher revealing the whereabouts of England's spies has been lost in France, and King Louis claims to have it. In reality, this is just a bluff, but Louis hopes to use it to wring concessions from England. The English King does have cause to worry, because the man who held it, William Marshall, disappeared and is presumed dead in Paris. Since he carried the Book of Ciphers on his person, English agents are still seeking both.

Katherine is asked by Lord Beauchamp to look in to the poisonings, as they may have something to do with the secret negotiations happening at the castle. He is also under suspicion, as a letter was recieved at court claiming that his wife, dead these last months, was killed and thrown over a cliff at her husband's estate. The woman who supposedly wrote it is also now dead and cannot be questioned, so Kathryn must look into things on her own.

The village is actually rather famous for an incident that happened a number of years ago during the Wars of the Roses. Three Lancastrians rode into town after a battle their side lost, and were set upon by the people of the town. The three, a squire and two common fighters, fled to the church, trying to plead for sanctuary, but were caught and killed in the cemetary, and their heads placed on poles by the villagers of the town, who were Yorkists. Lord Henry had been chasing the Lancastrians, but arrived too late to prevent the slaughter. As he served the Yorkists, he reluctantly praised the town and saw to the burial of the bodies. Later, Edward of York, now king, made Henry Lord of Walmer and sent him to take on the wreckers who called that part of the county home. The villagers were also glad to see the end of the wreckers and are well satisfied with their lord.

As Kathryn begins to investigate, another man, Adam the Apothecary, is killed in a locked room of his home as he drinks ale. His mother, who lives above, is ill and a light sleeper, and she claims that she heard or saw no one, and the only two routes into the house were locked, and one passed through her room. Why was Adam killed? Was it something to do with poisons or medicines that he dispensed? Kathryn questions all those who knew the victims, including Mother Croul, the widow of a former wrecker who survives by the herbal potions she makes.

Kathryn also sits in on the discussions with the French emissaries, who are men named Cavignac, Delcroix and Sanglier, the last of whom Kathryn met in another case she was charged with solving. But when one of the French is killed, also with poison, and the murders continue in town, Kathryn must unravel a tangled skein of motives and murders to see all responsible brought to justice.

I really enjoy the Kathryn Swinbrooke mysteries, and hope there will be more at some point in the future. Kathryn's sharp mind and quick wit make her an excellent solver of mysteries, and most of the books about her involve poisons and potions she is familliar with in her practice as a physician. I love the sense of place the author brings to his works, where you believe you could actually be in the place he is describing, and the characters seem familliar, as if you already knew them.

All the plots are also based on real-life events, and include bits of information on Medieval history that are something of a surprise, even to me, and I love medieval history, although I have never studied it formally. In this case, we find that transvestites were known and had their secret clubs even during the middle ages, which was quite a revelation.

I really enjoy this series of mysteries, and if you enjoy immersive mysteries, where new and strange places are made to feel almost old and familliar, you will probably enjoy it as well.

No comments: