> Abjurers returning to England and hoping they will not be recognised
A Sir Baldwin Furnshill and Simon Puttock Mystery
Tavistock, Devon, England
Sir Baldwin Furnshill arrives in Tavistock for the annual Fair along with his friend Simon Puttock, Bailiff of Lydford, and Somon's wife Margaret. But no sooner have they arrived than the Abbot, whose guests they are, is presented with a problem which he shares with them: a headless corpse has been found half buried under a pile of rubbish in a narrow alley-way between two shops.
Baldwin happily, and Simon rather more reluctantly, agree to investigate. But how can they set about it when they cannot identify the victim? Even his clothes seem to have been swapped for someone else's.
The Fair attracts hundreds of visitors, including, this year, from overseas, a Venetian banker and his son, and a tradesman from Gascony who was in fact a local Tavistock man but had been forced to flee the country twenty years earlier when he was accused of robbery. If he is recognised, he will be hanged. And is the new murder also his work? Or is it perhaps the work of the Venetian banker's son, for they seem not to be quite as rich and respectable as they claim to be.
Michael Jecks' books are often slow, with long descriptive passages, and while that is not entirely to my taste and I often find myself skipping whole paragraphs in order to get on with the story - to see what happens next - many people I know enjoy such detail. Myself, I like the realism of Jecks' characters - both the major, on-going ones like Sir Baldwin, the lonely ex-Templar and the ones who only appear in a single book, like - here - Robert Champeaux, Abbot of Tavistock, and Avice, the beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter of a wealthy merchant, destined for an arranged marriage with an unpleasant member of the local aristocracy, but who falls in love with the Venetian banker's son.
Another character who makes her first (but not her only) appearance here in this book is Jeanne, the widow of a knight, also in Tavistock for the Fair and also a guest of the Abbot's. Seeing her and Baldwin catch each other's eye, Simon's wife Margaret immediately starts match-making and is delighted to find that, for the first time ever, Baldwin doesn't seem to object!
The book ends with a great passage in which we see into the soul of Baldwin, and I would like to quote it here. A man wrongly accused has been saved from hanging thanks to Baldwin; and as they pass the Abbot's gibbet on the way out of the town, Baldwin remarks that he hates the sight of the thing, for that man could so easily have hanged.
'But God let you see the truth, Baldwin,' Margaret pointed out gently.
'God? Perhaps?' he muttered, his attention still fixed on the gibbet. [...] Baldwin could recall the faces of friends who were dead. Knights Templar like himself, men who had died during torture, or been hanged or burned alive. They had been betrayed by politicians who coveted their wealth. The loyal knights had all been unjustly slaughtered, and God had not helped them, even though they were dedicated to His glory.
Baldwin did not have the comfort of belief. He could never again trust in God's justice. As he passed the gallows, he made himself a vow: he would not rest if he thought that his own efforts could save an innocent man