Sword of Shadows is the 13th in the Crispin Guest series of medieval mysteries, but I didn’t really have any trouble figuring out the story and who the major players were. Possibly because there only appeared to be three characters carried forward from earlier books; Crispin himself, former knight and now Tracker, basically an investigator for hire in medieval London, his apprentice Jack and Kat Pyke, a woman thief and love interest of Crispin’s who can only be described as trouble with a capital T.
Hired by a treasure hunter to search for the legendary sword Excalibur, Crispin and Jack arrive at Tintagel’s ruins with their client to discover a body already waiting for them. The dead man appeared to have no shortage of enemies, including a half-dozen local women all of whom thought he planned to marry them, but Crispin can’t shake the suspicion the crime is tied to the search for the ancient relic. WIth suspicious locals, angry guards, a nearby village of pagans trusted by nobody, and expert thief and former flame Kat all viable suspects, Crispin and Jack must find the killer before they strike again… and find Excalibur before it disappears again into the mists of time.
Crispin comes across as tired and cynical, a man who’s been dealt a lot of hard blows in life and sometimes can’t quite believe none of them have knocked him down yet. A good bit of the story is told from the perspective of the fiercely loyal Jack, almost as competent an investigator in his own right now as his master.
The story reads as pretty believable for the time period; hardscrabble for most, but people are still people. Social climbing, romantic rivals, family dymanics; there are some things which are human nature even in different centuries. The one thing that didn’t read true to me was the pagan village; considering how deeply the Church was enmeshed in England at the time I really don’t see it having been allowed to survive unmolested so long. And I really didn’t like the way the druidae were portrayed in the story. It was demonising and unnecessary. For that, I’m knocking a star off a historical mystery I otherwise very much enjoyed. Four stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.