Thursday, 16 November 2017

REVIEW-Servant of the Crown Mysteries by Denise Domning


It’s 1194 and Sir Faucon de Ramis, the shire’s newly appointed Keeper of the Pleas, must do his duty and make an official declaration of the cause of a miller’s death. Saddled with a clerk who names Faucon his ‘penance', the shire’s first Crowner must thread the tangled relationships between the sheriff, the village of Priors Holston and the priory that once ruled it. As a simple task takes a turn to the political, what seems obvious isn’t and what appears safe turns out to be more dangerous than he could imagine.


A wealthy merchant has been murdered in his own home, and the suspect has fled to sanctuary in a local church. Enter Sir Faucon de Ramis, the king’s new Servant of the Crown in the shire, to solve the murder, assisted by his prickly secretary, Brother Edmund. 
As Faucon begins his hunt, the shire’s new Crowner finds himself in the upside-down world of a woman’s trade. Not only does the merchant’s wife own the business—unheard of!—the suspect is the daughter’s betrothed, or so the town believes. But what about the bloody shoe prints and missing tally sticks, and what does the sheriff have to gain?


A leper’s daughter is found in the well of a dying hamlet and the only suspect has fled into Feckenham Forest. But the sun is setting and Warwickshire’s sheriff is hunting his new Crowner. That sends Sir Faucon de Ramis and Brother Edmund, his prickly clerk, racing for a nearby abbey only to meet the man he least wishes to see at the abbey gates. Before long, Faucon finds himself riding into the dark at Sir Alain's side as they hunt for yet another lost innocent. 


As a writer of historical mysteries I recently discovered these three novels and was instantly engaged with the unique author voice and style of writing. The research is impeccable, well apart from King Richard being referred to as His Majesty, which was not used until much later, but that’s a minor criticism as the author weaves historical details, descriptions and points of medieval law into the narrative beautifully.

The Norman's rule the unruly English and King Richard needs all the money he can wrest from his people in order to pay for his crusades. King’s Crowners are enlisted as an alternative to the sometimes corrupt sheriffs to investigate murder and unnatural death, but primarily to charge appropriate fines to wrongdoers. 

Faucon de Ramis, a young ex-soldier looking for a purpose is nominated by his wealthy uncle into the post or Coronari – Keeper of The Pleas – a post similar to that of a coroner who examines the bodies and determines cause of death. However our hero is quickly drawn in to the villagers lives and sets out to find the killers too – with some help from a supercilious monk called Edmund whose adherence to protocol is frustrating but essential.

Pery might be reluctant but the post gives him a home and an income, so he throws himself into it with commitment and a keen intelligence. He has the ability to relate to anyone no matter their rank, and England in the Twelfth Century was all about rank and the church.

The first killing is of a miller, then a weaver and finally the daughter of a leper. Each one is handled sensitively and with fascinating historical detail. 

I was fascinated by the law that said the wheel that ended a man’s life must be instilled with sin [deodand] as is therefore forfeited to God and had to be given to the church: an act which would ruin the miller’s successor as without a wheel he could not grind the grain. I looked up this English common law of the 11th century which was not abolished until 1846.

I especially enjoyed the story of the murdered linsman, whose comfortable lifestyle was provided by craftsmen and women who made garments and embroidered ribbons and trimmings for the wealthy in a sort of early production line. 

The original killing which opens the first book and carried through all three stories is left open at the end as a tantalising carrot for the next book. I hope I can read that one soon as I loved these stories and will look forward to reading more from this author.

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