Monday, June 07, 2010

The Parisian Prodigal by Alan Gordon

Theophilos is the Chief Fool of Tolouse. Married to his wife, a former countess and now also a Fool, Claudia performs under the name Gile. They live with their daughter, Portia, and another orphan training to be a fool, Helga. Theo is not just a fool, or a chief fool, but is also a spy, but he performs under a different name: Tan Pierre.

Early one morning, he is woken by a guard of the man he works for, Count Raimon of Tolouse. The fool's guild supports Raimon because of his enlightened rule, and hopes it will continue. but now something quite unexpected has come up: a man named Badoin has arrived in Tolouse from Paris, and claims to be Raimon's brother. Raimon doesn't believe Badoin, nor his man, Huc, so he has thrown Badoin into prison.

Theo isn't sure what to believe, but he points out to the Count that having Badoin thrown in prison without investigating his claims could be taken as a sign of weakness. He counsels Raimon to let him out, and to leave him free but have him followed while he sends to Paris to investigate Badoin's claims The Count sees sense in this and has it done, but asks Theo to write to the Chief Fool of Paris to have him investigate and report on the truth or untruth of Badoin's claims. Theo agrees, but then the Count assigns Theo to teach Badoin the Langue D'oc, not the Langue D'oil that he knows from Paris.

Theo starts teaching Badoin the language, and sounding him out on his claim of being Raimon's brother. They are definitely related through their mother, who was Raimon's mother as well, and married to Raimon's father, but that may only mean that they are half-brothers, and no more than that. For unless Badoin can prove that the former Count of Tolouse is also his father, their familial connection means little.

As they tour Tolouse, Badoin, Theophilus, Huc and Raimon's man Sancho look to assuage several hungers, some of which are slaked at an excellent inn, and the rest of which could be found at a nearby brothel. Theophilus follows them there, but he is married now, and resists breaking his vows to Gile. A passing patron suggests the cream of the house to Badoin- a woman named La Rosse.

Badoin takes his advice, and spends the night with La Rosse, but in the morning, when his manservant goes to wake him up, La Rosse has been murdered, and Badoin sleeps beside her in the bed, Naturally, everyone thinks that Badoin has killed her, and his putative brother promptly puts Badoin back in the same cell he once occupied. But Badoin pleads to speak with Theo, and tells him that he would never have killed any woman as magnificent as La Rosse, and Theo finds himself starting to believe Badoin.

Theo tells the Count to keep Badoin imprisoned until he finds out if Badoin is actually his brother, while Theophilus looks into the murder of LaRosse. But this isn't an investigation he can handle on his own. His wife, Gile, and his apprentice, Helga, also want in on the action- and who better to investigate the goings-on in a house of prostitutes than another woman? But wherever Theo goes, it seems that Badoin's steps have been "guided" by a local nobleman, the Count of Foix. Why does the Count of Foix want Badoin dead? What is he so afraid of? And will Theophilus, Gile and Helga be able to find the real killer of La Rosse and bring him or her to justice before Badoin is executed for the deed?

I had never seen this particular author before, but I found myself really enjoying this book. The style was easy to read, and even though this is not the first book in the series, I got very much drawn into the story and the characters, all of whom were relatable and fun to read about. Fool is their profession rather than an apt descriptor- and in this case, most fools are anything but- they are actually more like secret agents or spies with a really good cover story- as entertainers.

Theophilus is the Chief Fool, acting as Raimon of Tolouse's court jester and information-gatherer. It was hard to tell how much the other citizens of the town bought into the "Just a fool" cover, but most of them seem to think of the fools as mere entertainers, so their cover is pretty well established, and I only saw Theo and his "family" being the kind of Spy-fools. Another fool, dumb, appears in the book, but it's not established if he does the same kind of jobs that Theo does, the spying jobs, that is.

I liked this glimpse into the world of a specific guild of medieval fools, and the many characters we saw. The fools may act foolish, but are not fools in the usual sense of the word, and the way that Theophilus, Gile and Helga worked to expose the true murderer, and the fairly lighthearted way they worked despite the serious nature of the crime has made me want to read more- so I put more of the early books on order at the library. Very fun and very good. Recommended.

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