A Poisonous Plot by Susanna Gregory

Twenty one already! No, not my age ( I am  little past that…) but the twenty first chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew.

Susanna Gregory has written twenty previous books about the fourteenth century doctor, Matthew Bartholomew. He is a Fellow of Michaelhouse College in Cambridge. What makes this series interesting is that if there is a murder, untimely death or serious crime in the town, Matthew gets dragged into it by his friend, Brother Michael, who by this stage is Senior Proctor of the University. Town and gown battle it out between them as vested interests, local politics and strange personalities confuse the issue of detecting and preventing crime local before police, detectives and even detailed examination of victims are established.

While I can appreciate that not everyone is a medieval history fan, it is not necessary to even know who is on the throne to understand and enjoy this series of books. The personalities  and situation are far more than historic, and the language is flowing and easy to follow. There are many impossible – to –  escape –  from adventures, and many of the books see the characters leaving Cambridge for other interesting towns and cities such as York and Lincoln. It is a male dominated book, which reflects the time period, but often the female characters have far more clue than the hapless Matthew and Michael.

A Poisonous Plot is concerned with the mysterious deaths of several villagers, town notables and University fellows, against a background of controversial dyeworks and even a proposed exodus of the colleges from Cambridge.

It is a good example of the series so far, with many threatened riots and local skirmishes as a result of a fatal illness which seems to afflict the rich and leave the poor unaffected. Matthew is on good form, not distracted by his frustrated love life, as he chases around  trying to work out if Cew is really mad, his book bearer’s superstition is going to be fulfilled, and the frail sisters’ new enterprise is really replacing their original “profession”. Brother Michael is still overindulging, while being the only person who can suppress the simmering town.  My favourite eccentric  character, Clippesby, is still consulting the local wildlife to find out clues, while the wild son of the Sheriff, Dickon, is experimenting with further and better weaponry.

This is a good stand alone novel, with enough information for the first time reader of Gregory’s books to work out what is going on, though if you have read earlier episodes you will get more of the in jokes. It is a funny book, but it is essentially a murder mystery in a well established context.  Husband has enjoyed various books in the series, and would recommend them too. This book has only just come out in hard back, but the other twenty are to be found in various places, and in audio form. Give one (or twenty!) a try!

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