Set in a 14th-century French city, McGraw’s novel tracks one man’s search for a malicious murderer.
Henri, the hero, flees his home after his lord, Sir Julien, dies from injuries, and the successor plots to eliminate Henri and his fellow men-at-arms. Henri travels to the village where he grew up, and as his father dies of illness, he learns the truth of his parentage—Sir Julien was his biological father. He also discovers that Julien’s successor wants to rid the court of all rivals and bastards. This, however, affects Henri and the storyline only marginally; it’s the sole impetus for Henri to trek to a new city, Bordeaux, where he hopes to start a new life. Immediately, Henri finds a job as a baker, and he proves himself skilled: “[T]hey clapped and exclaimed in delight the day he juggled three sharp blades behind his back and ended by chopping a fat marrow to bits.” Almost as quickly, his mentor and friend—M. Alphonse—is murdered. In this time, we see that Henri is an unshakable character, despite every father figure in his life suddenly dying. Through the subsequent search for the murderer—which lasts a few days—we learn that Henri has a better investigative mind than the local trained authorities. Through a somewhat sporadic, but detailed, narration, we travel with Henri and the other characters into the seedy underbelly of Bordeaux. Eventually, after a questionable battle, a series of coincidences and a flour mill fire, Henri stumbles upon the conspiracy plot utterly by accident and attempts what all heroes attempt—to save the day. Though the characters are not morally nuanced, it’s clear that McGraw knows them well. And the author’s in-depth knowledge of 14th-century France is on stunning display in this world ripe with characters, action and intrigue.
Immerses the reader in its uncomplicated world, enjoyable history and well-explored plot.