As I was ambling through the new paperback section a time ago I came across a book with a beautiful cover called Death of a Squire by Maureen Ash. The label said it was “A Templar Knight Mystery” next to a picture of said Templar sitting, writing, obviously in deep thought. The illustrations looked like they were taken from a medieval manuscript and put directly on the cover. I picked it up, looked through and found it was set in England in 1200 AD and that the setting, characters and contents are based on authentic characters and facts. I was hooked. I took it home, started to read it, discovered it was the second in a series and put a request in for the first–The Alehouse Murders–so that I could read it immediately that I finished the one I had. I was not disappointed.
These titles are about Templar Bascot de Marins who, after eight years of captivity in the Holy Land, has arrived back in England to find that his entire family has perished in the time that he was being held prisoner. He has been severely injured during his imprisonment and the things he has seen and the fate of his family have sorely tested his faith. Because of his state of mind and his physical incapacity (his leg has been injured so he has trouble walking and he has lost an eye) he and Gianni, a mute orphan who he rescued from the streets, have been sent by his Templar Master to Lincoln Castle in Lincolnshire to recover physically and spiritually. They are the guests of Nicolaa de la Haye, hereditary castellan of Lincoln Castle, and her husband Gerard Camville, the sheriff.
The Alehouse Murders takes place in midsummer. The midsummer fair is about to begin and merchants and revellers have started to flock to Lincoln for the festivities when four corpses are found in the town alehouse. The sheriff and his men must investigate and, on a whim, Lady Nicolaa asks de Marins to assist and report to her and her husband. He discovers that what at first appeared to be the end of a drunken brawl is in fact a cunning crime. As the body count rises, de Marins tracks the killer in a desperate attempt to protect the populace (and reputation) of Lincolnshire.
Death of a Squire moves into the late autumn of 1200 A.D. Lady Nicolaa and her retinue are preparing to host the first meeting betweeen King William of Scotland and King John of England when the body of a squire is found hanging from a tree deep in the forest. The situation is politically charged on several levels and Nicolaa entrusts the task of finding the cause of death (with all due speed) to de Marins. He has to discern whether the death was a suicide or murder and, if it is a murder, find the killer. During his investigation, Gianni is kidnapped by outlaws and, surprised by his feelings of affection for the boy, de Marins puts aside everything to ensure his safe return. In the process of tracking down the murderer and uncovering greedy wrongdoing on the part of seemingly law abiding citizens, de Marins comes to a cris de conscience where he must make some very difficult choices about his future.
These are delightful, well-written mysteries. Reading them is like being transported back to medieval England. The language rings true, with just enough ‘of the time’ terminology used to create the proper atmosphere. You can almost smell the wood smoke and the sweat as the men practice their fighting skills while the food is being cooked for the evening meal. It is quite clear that Ms. Ash has done her research. She is dead on when it comes to the legal system, the language, the food, the dress and the emotions and reactions of her characters. I enjoy learning something new while I’m reading for pleasure and I trust Ms. Ash to be instructive as well as entertaining. Long may this series continue.