In the debut of The Lute Player series, a Polish musician does more sleuthing than plucking in the court of Queen Christina of Sweden.
On the run from the field of battle toward Gdansk, Johan Sokolewski is desperate to escape to a more peaceful life as a music scholar in Stockholm. Once he reaches Sweden as a stowaway, however, he’s appointed a court musician—and, almost before he can play a note on his lute, a detective. A goldsmith studying the Silver Bible, which was among the spoils from Emperor Rudolph II’s castle in Prague, is murdered and the Bible stolen. Eleanora, the queen mother, wants it back. Legend has it that the religious faith of whoever owns the Bible will become dominant. In 1649 Sweden, that’s a big issue, as Calvinists, Lutherans, and Catholics vie for influence in the court. But the primary suspect is Zofia, the court astrologer and alchemist. Eleanora orders the castle closed and, when Johan pleads on Zofia’s behalf, gives him 20 days to prove the alchemist is innocent. As Johan threads his way through the political and religious intrigue in the court, with only the dwarf Gunne for an ally, he has to make sense of a half-finished letter, a secret code, a box of tiny wax dolls, and a string of alternate suspects that includes a cleric, a mystic, and the bastard son of the Lord High Chancellor. Knowing he’s already made one enemy, he risks not just exposure of a secret about his military past, but his life as well.
While there’s nary a “forsooth” or “prithee” in the dialogue, the modern vernacular that Moore (The Tapestry Shop, 2010) uses is just as grating. And the hero, an amiable fellow with the requisite tragic past, just isn’t a memorable presence in the castle or on the page.