Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Midsummer Crown by Kate Sedley

Roger the Chapman is glad to be home after spending so long in London working for his lord, Richard the Duke of Gloucester. But no sooner has he come home to the bosom of his wife and family than he is recalled to London to solve another murder, this one of a tutor in an apparently locked room. But it's more than just a murder- the tutor's pupil, a boy named Gideon Fitzalan, has disappeared, and nobody seems to know whether he was also killed, or just kidnapped, since he was not of an age to have committed the crime or even helped.

Other members of his family are in London for the coronation of the Young King Edward V, a prospect that fills the country with both joy and fear. Joy to have him succeed to the throne, but since he is only 12 years old, someone is going to have to act as his mentor and protector until he actually comes of age, and the people of London, and the country, are dreading the inevitable infighting as powerful men and powerful families, come to blows over who the actual protector should be. And the Duke of Gloucester is right in the middle of this fighting, as is the family of the Queen, even if she is too ill to fight for her rights herself.

Is it possible that this murder and kidnapping has something to do with the forthcoming coronation, or is being used to put it off or even stop the coronation entirely? Roger, upset at being taken from his family, must deal with his resentment and the tension in the city as he investigates. But while he is sure that there is something odd and strange in the movements and actions of a maid named Amphillis Hill, he follows her to no avail. All he knows is that she, and the boy's nurse, Dame Copley, seem too much together and too much suspicious- only he can't be sure why.

As Roger desperately seeks for some reason to abduct the boy from interviewing his family, he is also aware that someone doesn't want him to investigate at all. In fact, he thinks that someone just might be trying to kill him! But who. and for what reason? Is it that they don't want him to solve the murder of the tutor, or that they don't want him to find Gideon Fitzalan? Is there a spy near Roger, reporting on what he does, and if so, who is it? And does he have any hope of solving a mystery that seems to have no motive and no reason behind it? And will he recognize the reason when he sees it, or have any hope of bringing Gideon Fitzalan back to his family?

I found this book a short but interesting read. Coming so soon after the last Roger the Chapman book, the reader almost feels the same way as Roger at the beginning of the book. Yes, he spent time with his family in London, but his daughters are beginning to wonder if he loves them when he spends so much time away, and when he promises to stay for a while, his promises are turned into lies when the Duke of Gloucester needs his services.

Still, the book remains an effective mystery while showing the simmering tensions in the city and around the country at the coronation of Edward V. Needless to say, the country needs a strong and effective leader, and a twelve year old boy is hardly either of those things. And everyone who is anyone is fighting (and in some cases, literally fighting) to be the one guiding him, which essentially means becoming de facto King until Edward turns eighteen, even if they would just be ruling in his name. The power is seductive to just about everyone in the nobility.

I liked the ending, and the reveal of just who the plotters were. It was so effective because it was so unexpected. I had an idea of who the murderer and kidnapper would be and the ending entirely set it on its ear, as well as the reveal of who the spy was and who had tried, twice, to kill Roger. That it was so completely unexpected speaks much to roles in society and who can subvert them without being expected. Magnificent and unexpected, and recommended.

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