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Saturday, April 21, 2012

King's Gold. Michael Jecks. Simon & Schuster (2011)

A very enjoyable crime story with a great cast and a very successfully explored historical context. Late in 1326 the civil war in England has ended with Edward II deposed by Parliament and his son crowned King in his place. This created a very difficult and unstable situation, the old King, now Sir Edward of Caernarfon remains a potent figure for those still loyal to him. He was a prisoner, dangerous both alive or dead. After an attempt is made to fee him, he is moved to a new prison at Berkley Castle, home of one of the strongest supporters of the new regime. Caught up in this process are Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and his friend Simon Puttock and both of them find themselves investigating a the murder of a carter. The murder overlaps with a major plot to free and restore the king and the plots threads neatly and cleverly weave together in a very satisfactory fashion. The story is very well structured to give the large cast room to move and develop, the reveals are cunningly staged and the conclusion very well judged.
Finding the balance between context and plot in a historical novel is tricky, Michael  Jecks makes it look easy. The story takes time to reveal itself, that time is taken by introducing the cast and placing them firmly into the context of a war ravaged and uncertain England. Taking this time lets the plot mechanics work much more successfully as both a well drawn cast and the social fractures that surround them are critical to the plot. It arises very naturally from who they are and where they are rather than feeling like it has been imposed on them. The period details are not intrusive, they flow along with the thrust of the story and draw the reader further in rater that getting in the way.
One of the great pleasures of the book is the very large cast, the book is nicely structured to ensure that they all get a chance to be seen and heard and to create a very welcome confusion of possible motives and actions that are resolved with care and skill. One of the stand out cast member is Sir Richard de Welles and hard drinking good natured knight who is revealed to be considerably more with extraordinary economy at a critical point. The reveal is simple and devastating, it does not change the knight, it simply opens a new window on him and provides a strong example of Michael Jecks' control of the story.
The story is widespread but never sprawling, it respects the conventions of crime fiction while weaving them into a context that needs a lot of detail to make it work. The actions have to make sense within the historical context and to a modern reader, they do both with with care and skill. Self assured and confident, this is a great read.