Thursday, January 15, 2009

Another medieval gumshoe

I was telling my friend Sharon about Margaret Frazer's medieval mystery series featuring Dame Frevisse, and she asked if I'd discovered Candace M. Robb's medieval sleuth, Owen Archer.

Now I have! Book 1, The Apothecary Rose, was a delight, and Sharon tells me it's only a warm-up for the rest of the series. I'm looking forward to many pleasant winter evenings with the next six books.

Unlike Dame Frevisse (early 1400s) and Brother Cadfael (early 1100s), Owen (late 1300s) is not a member of a religious order. St. Mary's Abbey (York) is, however, significant to this story, and its resident herbalist, Brother Wulfstan, plays an important role.

Like Frazer and Ellis Peters, Robb mixes actual historical characters--in The Apothecary Rose, that would be primarily John Thoresby, Lord Chancellor of England and Archbishop of York--with invented villagers, monastics, miscreants, victims, and villains. All three authors show meticulous attention to historical detail without allowing it to overwhelm the story.

And what is The Apothecary Rose about? Well, of course, someone has been murdered. Two people, in fact. And more before the story ends. As the story unfolds, people undergo terrifying events. Someone falls in love. Eventually the truth comes out and justice is restored. This is a medieval mystery, after all.

The puzzle is important--I suppose it's the mind of the mystery. The mystery's body is equally important. In this case, the body includes a comfortable inn next to a well-stocked apothecary, an archbishop's furs and a medicine woman's rags, monks and highwaymen, mud and cobblestones, home-brewed ale and herbal potions, a wise pariah and an evil churchman...

Time to quit writing and go to the library. Book 2, The Lady Chapel, is on the shelf.

2 comments:

Carmen Butcher said...

GUMSHOE: In Amer.Eng. gumshoe "plainclothes detective" is from 1906, from the rubber-soled shoes they wore (which were so called from 1863).

LaVonne Neff said...

Funny! When I reviewed the book for Books and Culture (see http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2009/janfeb/12.43.html ), the editor titled my story "The Shamus Was a Nun." "Shamus" is a word of even more recent derivation. Merriam-Webster online suggests this etymology: "perhaps from Yiddish 'shammes'; from a jocular comparison of the duties of a sexton and those of a store detective. Date: 1925." How appropriate that the authors of the Dame Frevisse series met at the Society for Creative Anachronism!