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  • A thoroughly engaging historical mystery…

    Sarah Hawkswood has written a thoroughly engaging historical mystery, set in England in the 1100s. Lord Osbern de Lench has been found dead, and it’s obvious from the knife wounds that he has been murdered. But who did it? A number of possibilities present themselves, both close-at-hand, among his family, and farther away, in neighboring manors, because he was a harsh, even brutal, man - given to easy anger and easy violence. Undersheriff Hugh Bradecote and Serjeant Catchpoll, and their apprentice Walkelin, are sent to figure things out, and we get to follow along as they find clues, interview suspects, work out alibis, and gradually piece together the puzzle. The interactions among the three are among the most enjoyable moments in the book, especially when Catchpoll and Walkelin pretend to be cowed underlings to enhance Bradecote’s stature with Osbern’s heir, Baldwin, who is cut from the same abusive cloth as his father. I also really enjoyed Hawkswood’s descriptions of village life, such as when the young healer, Hild, describes the treatment for Bradecote’s own knife wound near the end of the book: “bind [it] tight with a mash of garlic and leek upon the wound, and moss over that for the first days, then honey once there [is] sign of it joining”. Whew! Or the overwhelming concern on the part of everyone, from lord to priest to villager, about the weather, and its impact on the harvest, and whether the harvest would be good enough to last through the coming year without famine. And finally, I found the hints of the changes that came with the Norman invasion less than a century earlier (e.g. people speaking “foreign”) to be intriguing and felt they added to the realistic atmosphere. If I have any issues with Blood Runs Thicker, it’s the almost uniformly bleak situation of the women in the story, except for Bradecote’s wife, Christina, and maybe the young healer. And, even for Christina, there are hints of abuse in her past as well. I do understand that the lives of most women then may have been that difficult, or close to it. And I wouldn’t want the author to be Pollyanna-ish about it. But in the end, I am reading for pleasure, and the almost unrelenting bleakness cast a small shadow across my enjoyment. This can be a problem with historical mysteries in general, not just this one – how to handle things when modern-day sensibilities differ from the mores of the time. But in the end, this is still a very enjoyable mystery, and I’m glad to have discovered a new (to me) author with seven previous books in the series to read – oh happy day! Please note that I tend to try to fight star-flation a little bit, and so I give very few five-star ratings. So my four-star rating for this book is a definite “read” recommendation. And I’d like to offer my thanks to the publisher, Allison & Busby, and to NetGalley for the advance review copy.

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  • Unique and Beautifully Written

    As a Historical Fiction fan I am always looking out for something unique...and found it here. The story takes place in 1144 England laden with shady characters, murder, life and hardships of the time. Really like the cover, too. This is the eighth in the series but only my second. Awful villainous master Osbern de Lench rides to his hill which overlooks his vast lands and relishes in taking it all in, as is his daily habit. But one day his horse returns to the hall without its master attached which of course raises questions. Not long after the corpse is found. Most people aren't exactly full of grief but the death must be investigated. Three men undertook this task...Hugh Bradecote, Catchpoll and Walkelin. Along the way, we see a lot of ill treatment of others by de Lech's progeny. We also see how badly women were treated then without any recourse. The story was interesting through to the end, including the resolution. Historical Fiction readers ought to seek out this book. The historical details and vernacular are so well done! I also enjoyed the vivid descriptions (could practically envision myself there) and twists. My sincere thank you to Allison & Busby and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this fascinating and enthralling early copy.

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  • Another gripping medieval mystery

    Blood Runs Thicker is another enthralling medieval mystery from the pen of Sarah Hawkswood. The year is 1144 and the people of rural Worcestershire are busily collecting in the year's harvest, before the weather closes in. Irascible landowner Osbern de Lench takes his customary daily ride to the top of a hill, from which he can view his lands. When his horse returns to the manor riderless, his steward and workers begin to search for their master. It's not long before they come across his body, which has been stripped of its outer clothing and unceremoniously dumped in nearby forest. De Lench's eldest son and heir, Baldwin de Lench, who takes after his father in temperament, is quick to point the finger at his half-brother, younger son Hamo. Enter Undersheriff of Worcester, Hugh Bradecote, Sargeant Catchpoll (what a wonderfully appropriate name!) and sheriffing Apprentice Walkelin, who arrive in Lench just in time to prevent a summary execution. Potential suspects abound - neither of the deceased's sons seem to mourn their father's death, his wife has sought comfort from his regular beatings in the arms of another man and there are animosities with neighbouring landowners. This is a complex mystery for our trio of medieval detectives to solve, as it seems nobody is willing to tell them the truth. A second murder, of a much-respected villager, leads them closer to the terrible truth. Once again, Sarah Hawkswood creates a convincing medieval setting, with a varied cast of new and recurring characters. It's quite an accomplishment that she makes the concerns, motivations and behaviour of these 12th century people both familiar and stimulating to a modern crime-reading audience. As with her previous title, River of Sins, Hawkswood weaves a deliciously multi-layered plot, with plenty of villainous behaviour, complex motives and hidden relationships. The central trio of Bradecote, Catchpoll and Walkelin have a great dynamic of mutual support and respect with frequent injections of wry humour. I'd highly recommend Blood Runs Thicker to readers who enjoy well-researched historical fiction, complex police procedural crime novels or both. For those lovers of Ellis Peters' excellent Brother Cadfael series who are yet to discover Sarah Hawkswood's work, you're in for a treat! My thanks to author Sarah Hawkswood, publisher Allison & Busby and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this title.

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