It’s a quick return for me to Bernard Knight’s medieval Crowner John series having only read one a couple of months ago. This is book number three and now I seem to have formed a regular pattern with my response to this writer. I’m involved until after the first crime is revealed (here it’s a hanging Canon) but then I experience a slump where I’m struggling until around the mid-way point when once again something happens which brings me back (here the lead character is set up leading to the accusation of a crime) and then my interest level stays fairly constant until the end by which point I’m looking forward to the next in the series. That’s from a book I could have abandoned around 100 pages in (if I would ever do such a thing, which I can’t).
Knight’s writing style is rather dense and very detailed but sometimes the history sits heavy on the plot. We get characters telling each other things they would already know purely for our benefit because of our lack of knowledge in medieval history. Sometimes this feels heavy-handed but I totally understand that the world of Crowner John is so different to ours that it needs this to keep readers in the loop.
I did not feel this book flowed as well as its predecessor but it does have a bigger scope and moves further and more often beyond the Exeter city walls. It takes place a few weeks after “The Poisoned Chalice” to which there is the odd reference but nothing that would make this book not work if encountered as a stand-alone. (I just have a thing about reading series titles in order).
We begin at Christmas Eve 1194 where the coroner’s wife is attempting to boost her standing socially with a celebratory feast with local dignitaries. The relationship between John and Matilda is strained at the best of times and suffers further when he is called out to investigate a death in the Cathedral’s precincts. Initially considered a suicide it develops into a cover-up murder where discontent with the largely absent King Richard is implicated. Buried treasure is also involved. When the plot is wound up satisfactorily there’s a surprising turn in a Trial By Combat. This feels like a set piece added on to the novel to explore a legal quirk of the period (we had this with Trial By Ordeal in the first novel) yet this section and its aftermath was what ended up with me more eager to seek out the next in the series than I was expecting when reading the first half.
Crowner’s Quest was first published in 1999. I read a Pocket Books paperback edition