Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wine of Violence - Priscilla Royal

    2004; 249 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Murder Mystery.  Book #1 of the Medieval Mystery series.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    The priory at Tyndal is a rather unusual place in 1270 AD England.  For starters it is co-ed – both monks and nuns dwell there.  Second, a prioress leads the community, not a prior.  And thirdly, someone has just killed one of the brothers, and in a most grisly fashion.

     The story opens with the passing away of the reigning prioress (the elderly Sister Felicia).  Taking her place is young, inexperienced Eleanor of Wynethorpe, who is more of a political appointment than a spiritual one.  To say the monks and nuns give her an icy reception is an understatement.  But newly-arrived Brother Thomas is kind enough to her.  Even though he seems to have ulterior motives and bears heavy personal secrets.

What’s To Like...
    Priscilla Royal strikes a nice mystery/history balance in Wine of Violence.  She also weaves several modern-day issues into the story – gays, bulimia, equal rights for women, and the various scandals confronting the Catholic Church today.  Purists might feel this detracts from the historical accuracy, but I thought it was a fresh and intriguing approach.

     There is a nice cast of characters to get to know, and Thomas, Eleanor, and the Crowner (coroner) Ralf make a good team to build a series around.  The prologue and epilogue are kewl, and clues and evidence are periodically found (albeit more by happenstance than by sleuthing), which keeps the storyline from bogging down.

     The mystery portion of the story could be done better.  I kept waiting for a “twist” and it never came.  The author overuses the word “cert”, and the historical depiction is not as compelling as in Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter’s Brother Cadfael series.   Then again, no one has the academic historical background that Pargeter did, and Priscilla Royal’s efforts to “set the scene” are more than adequate to make the tale believable.

 Kewlest New Word...
    By-Blow : A man’s illegitimate child  (British).

    ”Sister Anne’s a trial to us, I’m afraid.  What did you think of her?”
    Thomas hesitated.  “Indeed, I have not had your long experience with her, but she did seem very... perhaps direct is the word?”
    Immodest or ill-advised are better ones.  Has an unwomanly arrogance about her, which you will learn from your work at the hospital.  Her judgement is unsound and she will not listen to those wiser than she,”    (loc. 901)

    “There can never be two lords over one land, my brother says.”
    “Surely enough time has passed to forget which family has been here longer and to whom our kin owed allegiance so long ago?  A good man is a good man whether he be Norman or English.”
    “Nay, my lady.  One man sees goodness in another only if there is trust, and trust can only exist between equals, my brother says.  My family is not on equal footing with yours.  We hold none of you in fiefdom.  Again, I believe these to be my brother’s words.”
    “So you fear us still?”
    “And you, us.  There is a lack of trust, my lady.”  (loc.2374)

Kindle Details...
    Wine of Violence sells for $9.99 at Amazon, which seems a bit steep to me.  Amazon sells the paperback for $11.10, and the  Hardcover, not available at Amazon, goes for $14.89.

 “Death cares naught for goodness, beauty, innocence nor wit.  In the end, we shall all stink just the same.”  (loc. 1175)
    This series will inevitably be compared to the Brother Cadfael books, which are mentioned in both the Amazon blurb and Priscilla Royal’s forward to Wine of Violence.  Both series are based in Medieval England, in a religious community, and have the main sleuth as a member of that order.

    But unlike the Brother Cadfael stories, Wine of Violence is not a cozy.   There is coarse language, various sexual situations (although no overt sex that I recall), and all of the players, including our heroes, struggle with some downright earthly feelings and actions.  People sensitive about such scandalous behavior among God’s chosen might find this book abrasive, but who’s to say such wasn’t the case in medieval cloisters?
    If you’re looking for a fresh set of Ellis Peters cozies, you’ll be disappointed in Wine of Violence.  But I’m kinda happy with Priscilla Royal giving her own treatment to Medieval Murder-Mysteries instead of copying someone else.   7½ Stars.

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