Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Moneylender of Toulouse by Alan Gordon

Theophilus and his wife Gile, formerly known as Claudia, have settled in Tolouse. Theophilus was set on a task by Father Gerald, the leader of the Fool's Guild, to help better the position of the fools in the church. To that end, Theo helped solve a murder and discovered who was behind the threat against the life of Abbot Folc, formerly Folquet of the Fool's Guild. In the process, Theo made an interesting discovery about the life of Folquet and why he left the life of a fool behind and joined the church.

But now that he has Folc's agreement to come to the town of Tolouse and become Bishop, he must move on to the next part of Father Gerald's plan- removing the current Bishop of Tolouse, who happens to be very ineffective as a churchman. Tolouse is a fairly large town, and is ruled by a count, but most of the time he is absent. Theo won't just be assigned to Tolouse, he'll be the Chief Fool there, and he goes to meet the men he'll be in charge of.

Chief among them are Pelardit, a jester who is very good at broad physical comedy but does not speak, and Jordan the Jester, a man married with two sons. When Theo first arrives, Jordan thinks that he will be made Chief Fool thanks to his long living in the area. But in truth, Jordan doesn't change his routine much, and it takes the arrival of Theo for him to realize that he might not have been the best man for the job.

Meanwhile, Theo has done some digging into the background of Rasembert, the current Bishop of Tolouse, and it seems that he and a local moneylender, Milon Borsella, have had some dealings before. And when Milon presses the Bishop hard for repayment, the next day, Milon Borsella is found dead. Was the Bishop behind the murder? What reason could he have for killing the man who lent him money?

When the Bishop shows up at the wake for Borsella, he distracts the widow while his man searches Borsella's office. Only the arrival of the dead man's two brothers, both holy monks at various churches in town, prevent the churchman from looking further for... whatever it is he was trying to find. Helga, the apprentice fool, overhears enough to know that what the man was looking for was a small notebook that was usually kept in the top drawer of his desk. But whatever the churchman was looking for, he didn't find it- but the dead man's brothers insist it was stolen anyway.

Theo, who has been asking questions about the Bishop, is taken to the church, where the man who was searching interrogates him about his intentions, and hires him to find the notebook. Given the state of the church and how it is crumbling, Theo assumes that the notebook contains Borsella's notes on money transactions. But he isn't the only one looking for it, and when the Count of Tolouse, Raimon, returns and takes an interest in the case, can Theophilus find the notebook, decipher what is in it, and use it to bring down the Bishop, or will he taste failure for the first time in his life? And even if he manages to succeed, is Folc the right man to take on the job as Bishop, and will he help the Fool's Guild regain its stature with the church as he promised?

This was a quick romp through Marseilles, showing how the Fools use their unprecedented access and ability to spy to go everywhere and learn everything they need to know. In this case, Helga, their apprentice, does the most of the spying by taking on the role of an unpaid servant in the Borsella house.

I found this book to be very atmospheric, especially at the end, when we see the fruit of Theo's frantic spying and intriguing finally bear fruit. In fact, the ending is rather disquieting after all that has gone on. Have Father Gerald's plans borne fruit that will help the guild? Or have his schemes gone hideously awry?

I suppose we'll have to wait and see, but I can tell you that I am interested in reading what happens, with Theophilus, Gile/Claudia, Helga and the rest of the fools. It will also be interesting to see who is proclaimed as the new head of the Fool's Guild. Father Gerald has made it clear he won't be seeing Theophilus again, and no clear front runners exist to take over his position. (They might offer it to Theo, but I doubt he'd take it.) In any case, highly recommended.

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