09 April 2013

Living in olden times

Historical detective | Michael Jecks | The Sticklepath Strangler 

Many books that purport to be placed in the past get the past all wrong. If you were a king, you would be relatively well off, albeit without a decent doctor or dentist, but for the majority of people, life was nasty, brutish and short. Ordinary people had little or no rights. As Lois McMaster Bujold's Capt Cordelia Naismith once drily remarked, democrats have no problem with an aristocracy as long as they get to be the aristocrats. Aren't most of us fantasy readers expected to identify with benevolent kings rather than the downtrodden serfs? Yeah, you read my previous review, right? It would indeed be difficult in the extreme for us to identify with the serfs of bygone ages, so Michael Jecks wisely gives us the viewpoint of Baldwin Furnshill (Sir, no less) so that we aren't faced with the viewpoints of the ordinary villagers of Sticklepath (steep path) -- which would drive us quickly insane.

Did you know that villages were fined if a murder occurred in them? Heavily? Now that's a motive for not reporting it, if there ever was one. However, a blabbermouth traveller happens to be around when some young girls discover an old body in a wall, and the King's men, Sir Baldwin and his friend the bailiff Simon, turn up to investigate.

The mystery is an old-fashioned detective story (ha! In more ways than one) in which you get clues, and you have to deduce the facts logically from what people state. No forensics, no photographs, not even written records. More than one murder is unearthed (cough, cough, no pun intended, I'm sure), and more than one murderer is unmasked, with more than one motive for murder. To Jecks' credit, he manages to explain the surreal motives of people in ye olde times understandable, with good doses of prior exposition neatly woven into the story so that you get your aha moment from the mystery's solution(s).

It's easy to understand the jaquerie after reading a book like this and finding out what a horrible life most people had before the industrial revolution and modern medicine. I'm grateful to live now, and not a few centuries ago, and especially not in rural England.

Recommended for a good mystery as well as insight into ye olde times.

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