04 September 2010

The Demon's Parchment; Jeri Westerson

The Demon's Parchment: A Medieval Noir (The Crispin Guest Novels)The Demon's Parchment: A Medieval Noir by Jeri Westerson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical mysteries are always difficult - there's that fine balance between explanation of whatever time period we're in and moving the plot forward. In this case, there's a good balance mainly because there's an author's note at the end, so precious plot time isn't given over to too much "here's who and here's why" stuff.

Crispin's life in the Shambles is rough, but you have to give a former knight credit for his ability to live in such reduced circumstances. He's blessed with a sharp brain, although he often falls back into a rut created by his (former) class and the times in which he lives. The sodomy/murder of several boys truly horrifies him, and he's even willing to risk his life getting into the Palace to hunt for clues and question witnesses.

What we 21st century readers will be struck by is the incredible anti-semitism and talk of the Jew's blood libel. It's casual and pervasive, and not a little shocking. Crispin's realization that the Jews are perhaps not as guilty as they're accused of being, or as devious, comes a bit quickly in the book (but then, lust can change people's minds, can't it?). It's also interesting how accepted the astrologer is, along with the other superstitious beliefs. Additionally, Crispin seems to be an almost modern man, with his acceptance of John Ryneker's lifestyle - it sometimes felt that the author wants readers to feel closer to him than they might if he shared the prejudices of his era.

ARC provided by publisher.

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