Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Owen Archer #10
Published by Diversion Books on July 26th 2015
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A callous murder. A devastating secret. A crime of passion.
York, 1373: John Thoresby, the Archbishop of York, lies dying. Owen Archer, Thoresby's master of the guards, is determined to ensure that his lord's last days are as peaceful as possible, but his plans are thrown into disarray when Thoresby agrees to a visit from Joan, Princess of Wales, wife of the Black Prince and mother of the young heir to the throne of England.
Owen resolves to do his duty, but within minutes of Joan's arrival things go disastrously wrong when a member of the royal party is murdered. Then, only days later, a messenger carrying urgent letters for Thoresby is found hanging in the woods. As Owen races against time to find the murderer, he starts to realise that not only has one of his own men been compromised, but all their lives are now in danger...
The King is dead. Long live the King.
The story in this 10th book in the Owen Archer series takes place at Bishopthorpe, the Archbishop of York’s residence, at the time of the very real death of John de Thoresby, Archbishop of York, in 1373. The events in this book follow closely upon the events in the previous book in the series, The Guilt of Innocents, reviewed here.
In this fictional world, Thoresby is the employer and patron of Owen Archer and his family. Owen is the Captain of Thoresby’s guard, so the death of his patron will bring about major changes in Owen’s life. And in spite of their sometimes contentious relationship over the past ten years, as the old man’s death approaches, Owen is forced to confront his own feelings. He finds that now that the old man is passing, he likes and respects the man, and will mourn his loss.
He is also forced to confront the inevitable changes that the uncertain future will bring.
In the midst of Thoresby’s death watch, the author has interjected another historical figure who is looking at the future without Thoresby’s strength and influence with a great deal of justifiable trepidation.
Joan, known to history as the Fair Maid of Kent, has come to the Archbishop’s deathbed to seek his sound advice one last time. And she certainly needs it. Joan was the Princess of Wales, but Princess to Edward, the Black Prince who is dying. Her father-in-law, King Edward III, is also dying. She is all too aware of the likelihood that her young son Richard will become King when he is much too young to rule without a regency council. Child Kings do not thrive in medieval history. They tend to either become pawns, despots, or dead.
In 1373 Joan has no idea that her son, who will become Richard II, will turn out to be all three.
In this atmosphere of impending death lies the beginning of what history will sometimes call “The Cousins War”, but that we know better as the Wars of the Roses. The men that Joan is forced to choose among for her son’s regency will become the leaders of the Lancaster and York factions that rise in the wake of her son’s eventual death. England will not be at peace again for over a century, until Richard III is killed at Bosworth Field in 1485.
But all Joan knows in 1373 is that one of the few men she would have trusted to care for her son and his future crown will die before him. In the story, she comes to York to seek his advice one last time.
While she gets the advice she seeks, she brings chaos in her wake. And in this moment of shifting loyalties and fears for the future, her baggage train conceals a murderer. It becomes Owen’s job to find the killer, guard the Princess, and provide as much peace as possible for the dying man who has goaded and aided him in equal measure for so many years.
Escape Rating A+: While I’ve given a lot of weight to the historical situation in my summary, it sets the stage for what is actually a sort of country house mystery, albeit one set about five or six centuries before Agatha Christie made such stories famous.
The death watch for Thoresby creates an absolute hothouse atmosphere for murder, although the first murder takes place just before Princess Joan’s party arrives at the Archbishop’s. The stage is set with all too many people having all too many plausible, and sometimes urgent, reasons for killing someone else in either the party or at the house. The Archbishopric of York was a rich secular prize, as well as being the second highest office of the Church in England. Plenty of people are vying for the about-to-be-vacant see.
This is all about power, and by that I mean earthly power and not spiritual power. The great families of the North, the Percies and the Nevilles, want to be sure that the see goes to someone who aligns with their interests. In fact, to one of the Nevilles. Much of this jockeying is about the power vacuum that is about to occur on the throne, and who will be in the best position to influence the expected very young king in the days to come.
Many of Owen’s men, men who he believed were loyal to the Archbishop and most especially to himself, are vulnerable to promises of future employment. Their collective future is in doubt, and some are particularly susceptible to bribery of one kind or another.
Joan does not know all the various members of her party. Someone has been searching the Archbishop’s room, looking for either trinkets or information to blackmail someone with.
As the bodies and incidents start piling up, Owen puts the entire place on lockdown, wanting to be sure that his murderer remains on the premises while he tries to ferret them out. At the same time, Owen is distracted – he doesn’t know who he can trust, and his wife and her sage counsel are out of reach in the city.
We see all these characters at a crossroads. The future, both their personal futures and the future of the country, is uncertain. Loyalties that were firm have become fluid. And yet Owen still must do his job, finding out who is disturbing the Archbishop’s waning days and whether they might intend harm to the Princess. His job often feels impossible, and yet he knows that he will miss it, the responsibility and status it gives him, and the man who has been at the center of it all.
We feel Owen’s grief, and we see and sympathize with his confusion. His story has been marvelous from beginning to end, following a fascinating character and watching as his world changes and he changes with it. The author has never fallen into the trap of making Owen or Lucie anachronistic in order to make them fit our sensibilities, and they are all the more interesting for providing us an insight into their times and their world.
I will miss them, and I hope that the author returns to this series. The changes that are coming will be monumental and I’d love to see how they adapt.
~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
As part of this tour, Candace and Diversion Books are giving away three copies of sets of the first three books (The Apothecary Rose, The Lady Chapel and The Nun’s Tale) in this marvelous historical mystery series: