Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Lark's Lament by Alan Gordon

Theophilus, his wife Claudia and their daughter, Portia, are in the temporary hideout of the Fool's guild in Austria with their new apprentice, Helga, when the leader of the Guild, Father Gerald, sends them on a new mission: to regain the support of the church for the guild, recently stripped away by the Pope. First, Father Gerald sends Theophilus and his family to a monastery named La Thoronet to recruit their Abbot, a former Fool named Folquet.

Folquet was once a celebrated Troubador, but gave up his foolery and singing to join the church. Not just he joined the church, but his entire family did as well, wife and sons both. Father Gerald thinks that using Folquet, now known as simply Folc, to replace a Bishop of Tolouse, will enable the guild to regain status with the church.

But first, Theophilus must make contact with the former Fool and get him to sign on with the plan. Theo finds Folc to be resistant, blaming Theo for a murder and a threat painted in blood. The man killed was a monk named Brother Pelfort, and the message promised retribution for some unspecified past deed. Folc has Theo picked up by his monks, but allows that while he knows that Theo can and is willing to kill, he probably would not have brought along his family if he meant to kill. Folc offers Theo a bargain. found out who really killed Brother Pelfort and left the message and bring the person or persons to justice, and he will agree to the plan that Father Gerald has come up with.

Theo, of course, has no choice but to agree, and decides to head to Marseilles and Montpelier to investigate Folc's past and who he might have offended so badly that they would be willing to fill Folc so many years later for whatever crime his tormentor seems to think he has committed. On the way, they stop in to see Folc's wife, a woman embittered by having to join the church simply because her husband did. She does seem to have mellowed in her resentment, and now is a part of the group that cares for the cows owned by the nunnery. Caring for the simple creatures is not an easy task- indeed, a nun there was killed only a few months past when the animals stampeded, but it allows her space for contemplation. However, she doesn't seem to know anyone who would wish to have Folc killed.

Continuing on to Marseilles, Theo and his family discover that the words left on the wall of the Abbey were part of a song that Folc once wrote, a dirge for the death of a noblewoman he once had feelings for. Theo feels that he is on to something, and tries to find all three verses that Folc wrote about this woman, looking for clues to who she was. But when he discovers her true identity, and her name, he finds out why Folc's feelings for her were forbidden- the woman was married, and her husband was a very jealous man. But he has since died, and cannot be the man behind the attack on Folc at his Abbey. So, who else felt strongly enough about the woman and Folc to try and kill him, especially when she long predeceased her husband. Or did she?

As Theo uncovers a long-buried crime with a secret that has implications to the present day, he must work to unmask a murderer whose hatred and ruthless rage cannot be suppressed. In order to discover who is behind the threats against Folc and make him take up the task asked of him by the Fool's Guild. Theo and his family must work together and avoid death themselves. But how can they when they don't even know the direction from which the threat will come?

Wow, I love the Fool's Guild mysteries, and this one is no exception. The mission, and the mystery that arose- well, actually the multiple mysteries that arose from that mission kept me reading, entertained, and on the edge of my seat. At the heart of the mystery is Folc himself, and why someone would want to kill him. After all, his fooling days are done, and he barely even sings any more, despite him having once been a talented singer with a beautiful voice.

Of course, it's his voice, and his past songwriting talent, that have come back to haunt him. And, as usual, he isn't completely truthful with Theophilus when it comes to the threat against his life. Normally, it would be mainly Theo and his wife, Claudia who have the main roles in this book. But there is a new player in town- namely their apprentice, Helga, and she is able to get into places that Theo and even Claudia would have trouble entering because of her small size and youth. It was nice to see her become part of the mystery-solving team, and also what the Theophilus is beginning to call "The Fool Family".

This is an excellent mystery, with plenty of intrigue, foolery and derring-do. The perpetrator of the crimes was a mystery right up until the very end, and while I wasn't exactly completely astonished by the reveal, I did definitely find it a surprise. I loved the characterizations of both Theo and his family, and the secondary characters. This is an excellent series and highly recommended.

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