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Sunday, April 14, 2013

The King's Bishop. Candace Robb. Mandrin Paperbacks. (1996)

A very enjoyable and engaging medieval murder mystery. King Edward III wants to have William of Wykeham confirmed as Bishop of Winchester as a step to making him Lord Chancellor. The current Lord Chancellor, John Thoresby sends Owen Archer on a mission to the the powerful Cistern abbots to get their support for the King's wishes. Owen includes a friend of his Ned Townley in the group to display his trust and loyalty to Ned who is under suspicion of murder. When a friar vanishes from Ned's group after quarreling with him and Ned vanishes in turn Owen Archer finds that he has a very complicated problem on his hands. The story unfolds steadily and tightly, the reveals are very well constructed and the final unraveling is true to the layers of the story.
One of the pleasures of the book is that the story is properly stitched into the fabric of the medieval context and the motives and actions of the cast feel natural to the setting. Candace Robb has a light and effective hand with the details that support the setting, they flow along the story very naturally and are provided as needed to make sure the cast and the action are understandable.
Owen Archer, the one-eyed former soldier and spy, is the leading character of the book, he does not dominate the story, there is a large, varied and very well drawn cast swirling around him. Owen Archer is not a fool, his integrity and loyalty to his family, friends and employer make him a generous counterpoint to the multiple agendas and interests that flow through the story. It is this happy mix of motives and the way that people in power act to gain or preserve their position gives the story great colour and grip. The cast dance around each other as they play games of power.
There is a very strong domestic element to the story as the relationship between Owen Archer, his wife and young daughter is given a lot of space to develop, indeed domestic and romantic relationships of all sorts are critical to the story. Owen Archer and his wife, Lucie, have a strong and vivid relationship, it brings the reader easily and pleasantly into the world they inhabit. Candace Robb has a keen eye for the personal element in all of the relationships in the book, power was very personal in the era as well as formal and there was always a multitude of fine lines to tread at a royal court.
A fine story with a cleverly thought out plot that gives its energetic cast plenty of room to move and a very satisfactory conclusion.

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