Thursday, November 22, 2018

“The King’s Justice” by E.M. Powell

It’s 1176 A.D., during the reign of Henry II (1133-1189). We may not be sure of the status of Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, but his former friend and now-dead Thomas a Becket, cut down in Canterbury Cathedral at the king’s behest, has been dead almost six years. Henry, for his part, is determined to exercise control over his dominions, and one way to do that is to bring the king’s justice to all parts of the realm.

Judges appointed by Henry are traveling the country, hearing cases, investigating alleged crimes, and meting out justice. Determinations of guilt could be as brutal as the sentences for guilt; often the innocent suffer as much as the guilty. The court visiting the city of York is quick to investigate, using methods like the water judgment. If you sink, you’re innocent; if you float, you’re guilty. Either likely resulted in drowning.

One of the clerks attached to the court is Aelred Barling, something of a dry stick and something of an avid stickler for the law. One of the court messengers is a young man named Hugo Stanton, who’s more interested in drinking and local prostitutes than he is in fulfilling his job. A case of both men being in the wrong place at the wrong time results in their being sent to Claresham, a small Yorkshire village some distance away. Barling is to investigate the murder of the village blacksmith, believed to have been at the hands of a vagrant hiding in the woods. The village, the blacksmith’s daughter, and the local lord are all demanding swift justice.

It is Stanton who sees that the clues don’t point in the vagrant’s direction, but at some other (unnamed) person or persons. An unlikely pair, Barling and Stanton soon find themselves engulfed in far more murders than that of the blacksmith.

E.M. Powell
The King’s Justice by E.M. Powell is the first of the Stanton and Barlow medieval murder mysteries by E.M. Powell, and it’s so fast-paced that you need to pay close attention to characters, scenes, and plot development. And the suspects abound, until they begin to get killed off, one by one.

The second novel in the series is The Monastery Murders (2018). Powell has also written three novels in the Fifth Knight series: The Fifth Knight (2012), The Blood of the Fifth Knight (2015), and The Lord of Ireland(2016). Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland in the family of Michael Collins (founder of the free state), she lives in England.She’s a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers, and Romance Writers of America.

The King’s Justice is a well-research and entertaining historical mystery, full of unexpected turns and a detective duo that seem mismatched but gradually come to complement each other.

Top illustration: The coronation of Henry II in June 1170

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