Hays (The Trouble with Patriots, 2002, etc.) kicks off a new series with anti-hero Malgwyn ap Cuneglas.
Malgwyn is the classic hard-boiled detective: After his wife was killed by thugs, he avenged her death and hit the bottle. Beyond that there’s not much that’s typical in these pages. The book is set in medieval times, and here the heavies are Saxons, the weapons are swords and the hooch is mead. Malgwyn lost his right arm, and with it all hope of driving the Saxons from southwest England. The war leader Arthur ap Uther noticed his keen wit and saved him, sending Malgwyn to learn his letters as a scribe with the brothers at Glastonbury. Now, when a serving girl is found brutally slaughtered at the entrance to Arthur’s castle and all the evidence points to Arthur’s trusted councilor Merlin, Arthur sends for Malgwyn to investigate. Malgwyn knows that in his dotage, Merlin thinks he’s cleverer than he is, but he’s no murderer. Instead, what’s revealed is a plot to discredit Arthur and prevent his election as ruler. Are the Druids scheming to prevent the Christian Arthur from ascending to the throne? Is Lord Tristan’s proposal for peace with the Saxons sincere? As the bodies mount and the peasants clamor for the head of the sorcerer Merlin, Arthur stakes his honor and Malgwyn’s life on Malgwyn’s ability to deliver justice by the next nightfall, and the hunt is on.
Earthy, densely plotted and likely to have readers eagerly awaiting the next installment.