Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Chapel of Bones by Michael Jecks

While this latest West Country mystery featuring Keeper of the King's Peace, Sir Baldwin Furnshill, and his good friend and fellow crime solver, Bailiff Simon Puttock, may not be as suspenseful or as edgy as previous West Country installments, it still did make for a rather engrossing and compelling read. One piece of advice though: read author Michael Jecks' note at the very beginning of the book carefully because the murder of Chaunter Walter de Lecchelade at Exeter Cathedral in 1283 lies at the center of The Chapel of Bones, and would help many readers understand better what's going on in the earlier chapters.

In 1283, the Chaunter of Exeter Cathedral, Walter de Leccehlade is brutally murdered, along with the churchmen loyal to him, by churchmen who opposed him and by certain townsmen who felt hostile towards him. Some of the churchmen involved in the murder were punished, while others kept quiet and melted into the background. The townsmen involved were never betrayed by their ecclesiastical accomplices, and so they too blended back into the background, even though the then mayor of Exeter was hanged by Edward I as punishment for their crime. And for the next forty years, everyone went on with their lives and tried hard to forget that fateful and awful night. But now, in 1323, as the cathedral is being rebuilt, and three men who had left Exeter after the dreadful events of 1283 are back again in the city of their childhood. One of the men is the mason, Thomas, who had fled Exeter in guilt over his part in the murder; the other man is Friar Nicholas, who had left after being so grievously injured during the attack; while the third man is the priory's new corrodian, William, who left Exeter to serve Edward I. Many of the townsmen who had taken part in the murder and who had never left are not happy to see these men back again. And when one of the townsmen, the wealthy saddler Henry Potell, is slain on Cathedral grounds, both Sir Baldwin and Simon (summoned to help discover the murderer) naturally begin to wonder if Potell's murder is linked to the events of 1283, or if Potell, who seems to have been in the middle of two disputes with a rich German client and with his old friend, joiner Joel Lytell, was murdered over something else. But when another man who was involved in the 1283 killing is also found murdered, Sir Baldwin and Simon realise that what their dealing with is someone with a secret to hide and who is willing to kill in order to protect that secret...

Even though the plot was a little straightforward, with very few surprising twists or turns, The Chapel of Bones still made for an enjoyable read. As usual the author has written a book that is rich in ambiance, colour and historical detail. And the character development was brilliantly done as well -- each character, no matter how small was vividly and credibly rendered. I especially liked the manner in which the author showed us how the guilt that many of the characters felt over the wrongs that they had committed, coloured and affected their lives. And if I was a little disappointed that the mystery subplot was not a very perplexing one, Michael Jecks' stark accounting of how guilt and loss affects people more than made The Chapel of Bones a good and worthwhile read. Why, on why though, has this series been subtitled a Knights Templar mystery? The Knights Templar don't figure into this series at all -- or at least not since The Last Templar, and that was about 18 mysteries ago, where Sir Baldwin put his past firmly behind him. It seems rather strange to bring up the Knights Templar at this stage. Is this some kind of a marketing ploy?

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