Medieval Mysteries to Die For!
Perhaps no two words are more pleasant-sounding than the words, “summer afternoon”. It feels as if you have time eternal to be languorous and bury yourself in a good book. For such occasions, might we recommend a good mystery series set in the Middle Ages and involving our favorite Plantagenets.
Let’s begin with author Ariana Franklin’s wonderful series featuring her medieval female forensics expert, Adelia Aguilar. It begins with her first book, Mistress of the Art of Death, set in the time of Henry II. The heroine, Adelia, is a young woman who studied medicine in Sicily. She then travels to Cambridge, England where Henry II asks her to investigate a series of murders.
As the murder mystery unfolds, you get wonderful pop-in visits from Henry II who is energetically setting about establishing laws. You really see Henry in his full glory bringing much-needed legal reforms to England.
There are four books total in the series. Following Mistress of the Art of Death is The Serpent’s Tale where Henry’s mistress is murdered. Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is a suspect. Next comes Grave Goods in which a fire at Glastonbury Abbey unearths two skeletons. Do they belong to the legendary King Arthur and Queen Guinevere? Henry sends Adelia to investigate. The last book in this remarkable series is Murderous Procession. Adelia accompanies Henry’s daughter, Joanna, to Palermo to marry the King of Sicily. But when people in the wedding procession are murdered along the way, Adelia must quickly uncover the killer or face death herself.
If you love Henry II, this is a most entertaining and imaginative glimpse into his world.
Eleanor of Aquitaine
If you favor Eleanor of Aquitaine, two authors have written exceptional mystery series featuring our favorite queen. The first you may know: Sharon Kay Penman’s intrepid hero, Justin de Quincy, as The Queen’s Man. This series is set in Eleanor’s later life. Henry is dead and her favorite son, Richard is King of England. As the story opens, de Quincy is first on the scene of a shocking murder as the poor victim gasps out his final words, “You must deliver this letter to her. The queen.” So begins de Quincy’s intriguing sleuthing through Eleanor’s sinister court.
Ms. Penman follows up this wonderful first murder mystery with three more: Cruel as the Grave – de Quincy must solve the murder of a young Welsh girl as Richard the Lionheart is held in a German prison and John plots to take his brother’s throne. Eleanor summons de Quincy to stop her youngest son. In Dragon’s Lair, Eleanor is paying the exorbitant ransom to get Richard out of prison. But one of the payments goes missing in Wales. She sends de Quincy to find it and of course, murder finds him. And finally there is Prince of Darkness. Richard is still in prison and John plots for the throne. John himself is implicated in a plot to kill the king and turns to de Quincy to clear his name. In so doing, he uncovers several murders.
Another author, Judith Koll Healey has written a murder mystery known as The Canterbury Papers. The heroine is an unusual historical figure for a murder mystery. It is the King of France’s sister, Alais Capet, who was brought up at the court of Henry and Eleanor, meant to be the bride of Richard the Lionheart, but was seduced by Henry. The book presents a wonderful relationship between Alais and Eleanor as both had found themselves in a situation neither had asked for. While on a secret mission for Eleanor, Alais is abducted. Can the leader of the Knights Templar save her?
To round out our Eleanor mysteries, a 10-book mystery series by Sharan Newman is absolutely spectacular! The heroine is a young French woman named Catherine LeVendeur. The first book in the series is Death Comes as Epiphany and the story begins with Catherine living at the Convent of the Paraclete where the abbess is the famous Heloise of Abelard and Heloise fame. A manuscript goes missing that could harm the abbess, Heloise, and her former lover, Abelard. Catherine goes in search of the manuscript risking her immortal soul to find it.
We recommend you begin with the first book in the series and read them in order as the relationships evolve over time. It’s one of the few series where after 10 books, the author actually brings the story to a very satisfying end.
The books following Death Comes as Epiphany are (and in order): The Devil’s Door, The Wandering Arm, Strong as Death, Cursed in the Blood, The Difficult Saint, To Wear the White Cloak, Heresy, The Outcast Dove, and The Witch in the Well.
Edward I, Richard II and the Wars of the Roses
A very prolific author that we adore for his medieval twists and turns is Paul Doherty or P. C. Doherty. He has three series of murder mysteries all set in the Middle Ages. The first is the Hugh Corbett series set in the reign of Edward I and opens in 1284. Hugh is a clerk from the Court of King’s Bench. Along with his manservant, Ranulf, they solve murders and follow the wily politics and tangled intrigue of Edward’s court. The first in the series is Satan’s in St. Mary’s, followed by 14 more wonderful mysteries: Crown in Darkness, Spy in Chancery, The Angel of Death, The Prince of Darkness, Murder Wears a Cowl, The Assassin in the Greenwood, The Song of a Dark Angel, Satan’s Fire, The Devil’s Hunt, Corpse Candle and The Magician’s Death.
P. C. Doherty sets his second mystery series in the time of Richard II, shortly after his father the Black Prince has died followed quickly by his grandfather, Edward III’s death. As a result, a child king now sits on throne of England. Can murder and mayhem be far behind? Methinks not. Dominican monk, Brother Athelstan is sent out to investigate, along with the Coroner of London, Sir John Cranston. The first book in this 14-book ongoing series is The Nightingale Gallery, followed by The House of the Red Slayer, Murder Most Holy, The Anger f God, By Murder’s Bright Light, The House of Crows, The Assassins Riddle, The Devil’s Domain, The Field of Blood, The House of Shadows, Bloodstone, The Straw Men, Candle Flame and his latest Brother Athelstan mystery, The Book of Fire, published just this year.
And finally for this author, we recommend The Katheryn Swinbrooke series set during the Wars of the Roses. The author writes under the pen name C.L. Grace and his heroine Katheryn is a physician and chemist who solves murders in Canterbury, England. This series began in 1993, went for seven novels and was then ‘retired’ in 2004. The series is making a comeback with their reissue as eBooks. In his first novel in the series, A Shrine of Murders, pilgrims to Canterbury are being poisoned. The Archbishop asks for Katheryn’s help. Who is poisoning the pilgrims and leaving Chaucer-like notes with the bodies?
This first engrossing murder mystery is followed by The Eye of God, A Merchant of Death, The Book of Shadows, Saintly Murders, A Maze of Murders, and A Feast of Poisons.
I told you P.J. Doherty was prolific. While these three series don’t have the depth and complexity of a Sharon Kay Penman or Sharan Newman or Arianna Franklin mystery, they really are fun, light medieval murder mysteries. Yet you still feel that you have stepped back into the time period. So take any of these Doherty mysteries to the beach or the pool or the hammock and enjoy!
Next on our list of medieval murder mysteries is an absolutely fantastic series by Michael Jecks. It’s his Knights Templar Series. They start in the early years of the reign of Edward II when the Knights Templar had been dissolved. In France, the Knights Templar have been persecuted and killed on orders from Pope Clement. Edward II was forced to move against the Templars as well. He really didn’t want to, but the Pope said he must. The Templars were not nearly as persecuted in England as they were in France.
The hero of the 32 novels in the Knights Templar series is Sir Baldwin de Furnshill, who at one time was a Knights Templar, along with his partner, Simon Puttock, the Bailiff of Lydford Castle. The stories take place in Devon, England. They’re both gentlemen of maturity and the mysteries they are solving have much to do with the politics of the time as they do with personal relationships.
In the first book of the series, The Last Templar, all the Templars in France are dead, except one. He vows vengeance and soon bodies are turning up in Devon burned to a crisp. Are these deaths accidental or murder? Sir Baldwin and Simon search for clues.
With such an abundance of Templar mysteries, here is a link to the first book.
If you enjoy The Last Templar, the rest of the mysteries are easy to find. Here is a link to the complete list of the series and in the correct order.
Each book stands alone, but you appreciate the stories more, if you start at the beginning and proceed chronologically. That’s because Mr. Jecks very carefully chronicles the deterioration of the government of Edward II. The two Hugh Despensers make an appearance with their ambition and greed affecting the people who are living under the reaches of their power. You see England deteriorating and in the later Templar books, you have Sir Baldwin being sent over to France where Edward II’s wife Isabelle is with her son, the future Edward III. You get a spectacular depiction of the young Edward III, who is a very quiet, watchful and wary young man. You get a wonderful picture of Isabelle and this series is just fascinating on all levels. His last book, Templar’s Acre, was written in 2013 and we are eagerly waiting Mr. Jecks’ next exciting book in his Templar series.
In the reign of Edward III, two authors take center stage with their medieval murder mysteries. The first is Susanna Gregory, and her hero’s name is Matthew Bartholomew, another physician and a teacher at the newly-established University of Cambridge. In her series’ debut novel, A Plague on Both Your Houses, plague is headed to England from Europe and Cambridge scholars are dying mysteriously. Can Matthew save Cambridge and himself?
There are 21 books in the series and they’re as light as you can get considering there is a murder in the middle of them. But, they don’t get tedious. They’re still as fresh and enjoyable at Book 21 as Book 1.
Here are links to the first three books in the series: A Plague on Both Your Houses, An Unholy Alliance and A Bone of Contention. The rest are available at Amazon.com.
Another author whose medieval mysteries are really good is Candace Robb. Her hero is a Welshman by the name of Owen Archer, who spies for the Archbishop of York. You can count on her mysteries to be excellent. She gets the time and setting right, and her characters deftly step off the page.
The first book in her Owen Archer series is The Apothecary Rose. It’s Christmas 1363 and two pilgrims to York have been poisoned. Why? And by whom? The Archbishop sends his spy, Owen Archer, undercover to the apothecary shop where the fatal potion was made. There are 10 books in the series and each one more enjoyable than the last.
With such a fabulous booklist at your fingertips, your world is sure to be one step closer to pure bliss. Happy Summer Reading! Next time, we shall present you with our favorite Tudor Murder Mysteries for your bibliomanic pleasure.