Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: Crispin Guest #9
Published by Severn House Publishers on August 1st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
" When Crispin Guest finds himself trapped in circumstances outside his control, he must rely on the wits of his young apprentice, Jack Tucker, to do the rescuing. " Crispin awakens in a strange bed after a night of passion when he finds a woman dead, murdered. Drunk, Crispin scarcely remembers the night before. Did he kill her? But when other young women turn up dead under similar circumstances, he knows there is a deadly stalker loose in London. Could it have to do with the mysterious Tears of the Virgin Mary kept under lock and key by a close-lipped widow, a relic that a rival family would kill to get their hands on? What does this relic, that forces empathy on all those surrounding it, have to do with murder for hire? With Crispin shackled and imprisoned by the immutable sheriffs who would just as soon see him hang than get to the real truth, Jack hits the ground running and procures the help of a fresh young lawyer to help them solve the crime.
As the saying goes, “the past is another country, they do things differently there.” That saying seems especially true in A Maiden Weeping. In this case the past that is so different is just that, a case. A legal case. We tend to think of the law and the court system as being bound in tradition, and that its tradition has not changed in centuries.
As this historical mystery shows all too clearly, human nature may not have changed much in the past 600 plus years (or possibly the past 6,000 or even 60,000 years) but the court system certainly has. As American readers, we expect contemporary English courtrooms to operate slightly differently from our own, but not that much – they do spring from the same root.
What we see here is much, much closer to that root, and the operations of the court are very different from what we expect. Whether that is for better or for worse is certainly a matter for opinion and debate, but absolutely different.
Crispin Guest, who normally tracks down murderers and thieves, this time finds himself as the accused. And where he once was accused quite righteously of treason (read the first book in this series, Veil of Lies, for more of Crispin’s background) in this particular case Crispin is innocent of the crime.
But he is very, very definitely in the frame. The Sheriffs of London are tired of Crispin making them look like fools, and eagerly snatch the possibility of removing him from being a perpetual thorn in their sides. His guilt is in some doubt from the very beginning, and the small powers that be do their level best to get Crispin tried, convicted and executed before he has a chance to prove himself innocent.
So the expert ‘Tracker’ of London is forced to rely on others to discover the truth. Foremost among those others is his apprentice Jack Tucker, who will need every scrap of the knowledge he has gained from Crispin to discover who and what is at the bottom of this case, and the farrago of lies that surrounds it.
But Jack knows that he needs help. So he finds himself at Gray’s Inn, the first of four law courts of London, and not yet half a century old. The young lawyer that Jack engages is just barely out of his own apprenticeship, but Nigellus Cobmartin is eager and energetic in taking Crispin’s case, even as he prays that this case will have a better outcome than his last case. Which was also his first case. And he lost.
Nigellus best option is simply to delay, to give Jack time to investigate. But the more Jack digs, the more strange events he uncovers, and not all of them seem related to the mess that has Crispin behind bars. Two families are feuding over a priceless relic, with both Crispin and the murdered woman caught in the middle. But there is also a serial killer on the loose, murdering women just like the original victim. Is this all about the relic? Is it a case of a fetish gone wrong? Or is there a third possibility, yeet to be revealed?
And can Jack figure it out in time?
Escape Rating A-: I read the first three books in this series several years ago, swallowing them whole while on a cruise, and being absolutely enthralled. But like many other series, I lost track of Crispin Guest in the “so many books, so little time” conundrum. I’m looking forward to the chance to catch up.
It takes a bit to set the stage for this one. At the beginning, Crispin isn’t doing well, and makes a series of rather foolish mistakes that land him in this pickle. One gets the feeling that he should have known better, but at the time, he was, well, pickled. He needs to take himself in hand, and it is not a pretty sight.
At the beginning, Jack is lost and scared, and so he should be. His first case requires him to save Crispin’s life, as Crispin saved his. Jack grows up, as he needs to. He fumbles more than a bit before he finds his way.
The court system operated very differently in the late 14th century than it does now. Even if you don’t normally read the “Foreward” to a book, in this case it provides an essential bit of stage-setting for how justice functioned at this time. It’s different and fascinating and all the things that we are used to seeing in a courtroom are either completely turned on their heads or, like the use of lawyers, just barely in their infancy.
Part of the frustration at the beginning is that it is obvious to the reader that Crispin is being framed, and equally obvious that the officials that we believe should be finding the real criminal are using this mess as a convenient way of getting rid of Crispin, and that they are all in on it. It offends our 21st century sense of justice. This feels correct for the period, but it makes for hard reading.
But once the stage is set, the story really gets going. Jack is on the run every second, trying to do what he believes Crispin would do, meanwhile learning as he goes. The roadblocks deliberately strewn in his way are many and dangerous.
Crispin is a character at a crossroads. He spends much of the book contemplating his life from a cold prison cell, a sneaky feline his only company. He is forced to think about how his life has come to this particular pass, and both what he needs to do, and what he needs to accept, if he is to have a life after this point. In a way, he too grows up and changes, in spite of being well into his 30s. The man who emerges is different from the one who began.
And that makes him an interesting character to follow.