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“. . . grittier kind of medieval murder mystery.”
England in 1350 is an unhappy place. The Black Death has killed millions in the past two years. Villages and monasteries the length of the land lie deserted. The old social order is breaking down. With a drastic labor shortage the peasantry, long downtrodden, begin to realize just how much power they now have.
Oswald de Lacy has the plague to thank for his elevation to Lord Somershill. Once a novice monk, he was recalled to his family’s estate in Kent by the deaths of his father and older brothers. Eighteen years old, educated but unsure, he finds himself held in contempt by his mother, his older sister, and the truculent peasantry. The village priest, a charismatic charlatan named John of Cornwall, seeks to outmaneuver Oswald at every turn, usurping control of the village for his own ambitions.
The murder of a village girl sets Oswald at loggerheads with Cornwall. Where Oswald sees human agency at work in the killing, the priest stirs up the surviving villagers with tales of demonic creatures roaming the night. Oswald has to rely on his wits and the sporadic help of his drunken friend Brother Peter to find the villain. A second murder reveals dark family secrets and sets in motion a train of events that has unexpected repercussions for the Lord of Somershill.
In Plague Land, S D Sykes has written a highly engaging debut novel. Oswald de Lacy is an appealing hero, John of Cornwall a plausible adversary. A captivating good story resonates with sound research and a feel for the period that doesn’t get in the way of the plot. Fans of the grittier kind of medieval murder mystery will enjoy this book.
Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews