The Wine of Angels – Phil Rickman

e3d2a69434cb04c597262376651434f414f4141Merrily Watkins has begun her first real posting as a vicar – it’s in the small village of Lewardine, and she quickly finds herself in the middle of a neighborhood drama involving a play about a long dead vicar in the same church, who was accused of being a witch.

Add in a teenage daughter (Jane), who’s not sure about the whole My-Mother-is-a-Vicar thing, and the tension between the old families of the village and the newcomers moving in to find an idyllic country life, with a little possibility of a haunted apple orchard, and things gets interesting.

I enjoyed this book. It turns into a straightforward mystery (and I did not see the villain coming – totally should have though), but it’s got a great supernatural atmosphere to it. And while I don’t live in a small English village, I have seen enough small town Maine life to recognize how to true to form it is there. Definitely a series with potential.

Dead Man’s Ransom – Ellis Peters

b00luznvsw-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_The civil war between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Maud, continues, and now the Welsh are wading in. Gilbert Prescote, the sheriff in Shrewsbury, has gone north with his men to stand against Welsh raiders who are trying to help some rebel barons, and has the misfortune of being caught by the Welsh in the action. At the same time, young Elis ap Cynan, a kinsman of Prince Owain of Gwynedd, is captured in the fuss. It seems the perfect exchange- Elis for the sheriff. While arrangements are being made, Elis is given the run of the town, and meets Gilbert’s daughter, Melicent, and falls head over heels in love.

Prescote is returned to Shrewsbury, but injured, and during his first night back, in the Abbey’s infirmary, he’s murdered. Melicent assumes it’s Elis, trying to stay with her (her father has always hated the Welsh). Brother Cadfael of course knows that’s not true, and is on the case.

This was an interesting story – I think I most enjoyed the contrast between the Welsh and English senses of honor. I really didn’t see the murderer coming – it was a very interesting twist for me. All in all, another great outing in this series.

A Quiet Life in the Country – T. E. Kinsey

9472a03105430ec596b35356e67434f414f4141Lady Emily Hardcastle and her maid Flo are retiring to the country after an apparently interesting time traveling the world, both before and after the death of Lady Hardcastle’s husband. Naturally, there’s a murder in their new village, and they feel compelled to investigate.

I was a little let down by the women’s past. I was promised a maid who is an expert in the martial arts, and all I really got was hints about things the women had done in China and India. If that’s going to be blurbed, I expect a little more. (Granted, this appears to be the first book in a series, so there is time for that later.)

That aside, this was an enjoyable book. I see it compared to Wodehouse and Heyer – I’d say Heyer is better, but this book shows promise. I’ll definitely consider reading more in the series.

In the Woods – Tana French

7e9d9a202367cc1592b78445541434f414f4141Adam Ryan was twelve when he and two friends disappeared in the woods in a housing development outside of Dublin. He was found a day later with several gashes, and someone else’s blood on him. He also had no memories of anything before that day. In the aftermath, his family moved away, and he was sent to boarding school in England. Eventually, he came back to Ireland, but with an English accent, and going by his middle name. He became a detective on the Murder Squad – a job he wanted for a long time.

And so we come to this story, where a girl is murdered on the outskirts of the same woods where his two friends were lost. And even though he knows he should probably be off the case, he and his partner Cassie become the principle investigators.

In reading the reviews before deciding if I wanted to read this book, a fair number of people hate the ending. And I can understand why you would, if you were expecting this to be a straight murder mystery. And while the murder is solved, that’s not really what this story is about. It’s really about how much Ryan’s loss his screwed with his head, and how that will ultimately play out in his relationships. That’s where the ending comes from. And it’s pretty terrible, from the standpoint of the story. Not at all what I was expecting, from the setup of the story, but I found it rather satisfying, in a very perverse way. But I can totally see why some would hate it.

Jane and the Man of the Cloth – Stephanie Barron

99e353bc7b934ce59396d6e5a77434f414f4141This is the second of Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries, and we find Jane, her parents, and sister Cassandra off to take the sea air for the month of September in Lyme, which is where her novel Persuasion is partially set. On the way, a storm overturns their carriage, injuring Cassandra, and forcing them to take refuge at a nearby manor, where Jane meets the darkly forbidding Geoffrey Sidmouth.

This is meant to be a sort of love story, and Sidmouth is probably a sort of proto-Darcy (the conceit of these books is that they’re a lost trove of Austen’s letters, so they’re meant to inform how she came up with ideas for her books.) There’s also smuggling, and interesting society asides.

It’s diverting – I’ll give it that. And in some ways, the history and setting is well thought out. In other ways (Jane going out at night just for the heck of it to see what the smugglers are doing), it’s a little far-fetched. The anachronism was a bit strong at times. Still, it was a diverting read.

The Devil’s Novice – Ellis Peters

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Read for the RIP XI Reading Challenge.

This is the eighth book in the Brother Cadfael books, and while all of the books deal with the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud in some degree (and it does touch this story), this book ends up being more about family drama, which is a bit unexpected when your main character is a monk.

The Abbey in Shrewsbury accepts a postulant from a local family of the gentry. He’s nineteen, so well old enough to make the decision, and seems eager to embrace a life in the church, but he’s clearly not cut out for that life. To make matters worse, he suffers from terrible nightmares, and the screams from those (which he does not remember), quickly label him the Devil’s Novice, and most of the abbey wants him gone.

Coincidentally, a powerful bishop visits on his way through, investigating the disappearance of an envoy the church has sent to one of the factions in the civil war. That envoy is a cousin of the new novice, and it was at his family’s home that the envoy was last seen alive. Brother Cadfael can tell there’s a connection, and it’s up to him to figure it out.

Like I said, this ends up being a family drama – Cadfael visits the home of the novice, and it’s a complex emotional situation he finds there.

I really enjoyed this book – I’ve always liked the period details in these stories, but the sheer drama of this particular one was the draw – putting together the pieces and finding the right place for everyone at the end was very satisfying.

 

The Sanctuary Sparrow – Ellis Peters

This Brother Cadfael book kicks off with a young juggler, hired to perform at the wedding of the local goldsmith’s son, being chased into the Abbey in front of a mob accusing him of having killed the goldsmith.   Lilliwin’s a slight young man, who does not look like a murder, so Brother Cadfael is on the case.

What unfolds is a really sad story – the goldsmiths’ family, though wealthy, has always been rather parsimonious, and that past is what causes the real murder of this book (the goldsmith was just hit over the head, and makes a recovery).

This ends up being probably the most tragic of these books (at least so far).     It’s also probably one of the most true to its time – this murder makes perfect sense within the family structures of the 12th century.    It’s a really good story – the kind that makes you think for a while when you’re done, and have put it down.