Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Ian Morson

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-13971-3
Publisher: St. Martin's

 A second florid chronicle of the life and times of mid-13th century Regent Master William Falconer, Oxford scholar and teacher (Falconer's Crusade, 1995). While Pope Alexander is dying in Rome, his ambitious Papal Legate Bishop Otho is holding court in Oxford's Olseney Abbey, collecting monies due the Church and receiving local dignitaries like landowner Humphry Segrim. The battle for the Pope's successor is under way, with England's King Henry not above the fray; the shadowy figure of Knights Templar agent Guillaume de Beaupeu ever lurking; the Abbey's Prior John Darby and Bursar Peter Talam ever listening; and Dominican friars ever preaching hellfire and the Apocalypse. In the middle of all this, Bishop Otho's brother Sinibaldo, his master of cooks, is shot dead by an arrow seemingly meant for the Bishop; a group of Oxford students is jailed for the crime, and one of them, Welshman John Gryffin, is found dead in his cell--with the authorities naming it suicide, and Falconer proving to himself it was murder. Determined to find Sinibaldi's true killer, Falconer gets help from his sturdy friend Town Constable Peter Bullock and from Segrim's discontented wife Ann. The writings of his mentor Roger Bacon and his own considerable cunning also help achieve his goal. Suspense and clarity are largely forfeit in a plethora of minor characters, background decor, swirling cloaks, and skulking figures, mostly hooded. Lessons could be learned from the clearheaded language and plotting skills of the late Ellis Peters. This will be most enjoyed by devotees of ecclesiastical history.