A Taste for Killing by Sarah Hawkswood
Sometimes I come across a book in a series of historical novels that I enjoy so much that I feel determined to read the other books. This book is the tenth in the Bradecote and Catchpole series, but definitely works as a standalone because that is how I read it. Set in the cold winter of 1145, this Medieval Mystery is a classic whodunnit set in a world of arrow makers, murder investigations carried out by local serjeants and sheriffs, forensic examinations carried out by experienced healers. By this stage in the series of books the men trying to solve the mystery of unexplained deaths are experienced and know what the other is capable of, and what is happening in their private lives. In this particular novel there is a more recent addition to the team in the form of Underserjeant Walkelin, who is busy developing his detection skills, and showing real determination to make his contribution to the process.
This novel shows a writer totally at ease with their historical setting, and while there may well have been some specialist research into arrow making and plant lore for this particular book, the impressive research is never allowed to get in the way of an absorbing story. The dialogue is also completely convincing, showing the characters in terms of their status and personality, as well as pushing the story forward. The characters are solid and well differentiated, and almost visual in their descriptions throughout which shows real consistency. While the mystery of the unexplained death with which the book begins is central, it shows how other issues and the family lives of the characters contribute to the overall story. It is a really enjoyable book and I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it.
The novel begins with an argument. Two servants and a journeyman listen to their employers, Godfrey Bowyer and his wife Mistress Blanche, shouting at each other. The cook, Gode, is used to these upsets, whereas the maidservant Runild is cross that she will have to clear up broken pots and food thrown at the walls. When unexpected noises issue forth, Alwin abandons his usual shyness and goes to see what is happening in the main room. What he and the two women witness sends him scurrying through the streets of Worcester to find Serjeant Catchpoll and tear him away from his fireside, while Runild seeks the medical help from the very able Roger the Healer. Fortunately Walkelin is also present so the two investigators can set off for the Bowyer house, and compare notes on their usual companion Hugh Bradecote who is preoccupied with his wife who is expecting her first baby in the very near future. Unfortunately when they arrive at the house there is no hope for Godfrey, Blanche is exhibiting severe symptoms and there seems to be no easy answer to why they have both been so afflicted. Roger privately asserts there is a strong likelihood of poison, but there is no obvious culprit, especially since the servants hotly deny any unusual happenings in the household. As the investigation proceeds the deeply unpopular arrow maker turns out to have many bitter enemies , but there seems to be no easy explanation for how and when any noxious substance could have been administered.
The writing in this novel flows so easily and naturally that it is immensely readable and enjoyable. The plot is strong and the side issues of the introduction of a possible bride of Welsh extraction to the Walkelin household and the input from Mrs Catchpoll are very entertaining. This is a book that I strongly recommend, and I will be eager to find other novels from this excellent author.