Officially one of my top three new favorite authors!
I read a lot. So much, in fact, that I never post reviews; it takes away precious moments of my already limited reading time. The vast preponderance of my reading material is historical fiction, and of that majority, probably half are Medieval English mysteries. The other half are historically-accurate renderings of primarily Plantagenet England; I am a ridiculously devout fan of Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Kay Penman.
Taking my usual taste into consideration ought to be sufficient for many other historical fiction/mystery aficionados, so I will not go into the details of this book; suffice it to say, I agree with what another reviewer said: This book is a *gift*. I could not have been more raptly absorbed by any other historical fiction book I’ve read to date. I devoured this one in less than two days (no mean feat… I have seven children), then promptly downloaded the second book in this series, and finished it in a day. I was disappointed to the point of frustrated depression that there is not yet a third book available! (But slightly mollified to read at Ann Swinfen’s website that book 3 will hopefully debut in March… I’ve waited longer for less worthy successive texts.). I cannot recommend this jewel enough. It’s one that I intend to purchase the paperback copy of, to add to my hand-picked legion of Most Worthy books on my largest bookcase. If you’re wavering, don’t; I promise you will be drawn in and fall in love before the end of the first chapter.
A Medieval Mystery
This novel is the first I’ve read by Ann Swinfen, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The opening gives a gentle, domestic view of bookseller Nicholas Elyot’s family life in Oxford, just a few years after the Black Death has decimated the country. He’s lost his wife, his sister her husband, but they are bringing up Nicholas’s two young children between them. A new puppy gives a charming thread which links the story throughout.
A dedicated young student known to Nicholas is murdered, and having found the body, he sets about discovering why the deed was done – which ultimately leads him to the guilty party. Along the way, Ann Swinfen gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of the world of books – how they were made (before the printing press revolutionised the world) how illustrated, and indeed, how valuable they were.
Nicholas Elyot is a most likeable character, fully rounded, with friends and relatives so clear one can almost see them. Similarly, the people he distrusts. I was so involved with them, that towards the end I was dreading, with Nicholas, what price he would have to pay for the solution of the mystery.
All in all, I can honestly say that I haven’t enjoyed a medieval murder mystery so much since I first discovered Brother Cadfael, many years ago!
Murder and Mystery in 14th Century Oxford
This is a very good mystery novel. Besides the murder there is a secondary mystery involving a rare book. How could a penniless student be making secret copies of a rare and expensive book that is kept secured at distant Merton College? Why was he dong this? Did that have something to do with his murder?
The descriptions, people and way of life in 14th century England are very well done. One can almost get the feeling that one is there walking along with Nicholas through the streets of Oxford or riding with him to a distant town. One can feel that they are with him when he spends time with his family or sits down to his morning or evening meals. The atmosphere and mood is all there along with very interesting and well fleshed out characters. It was a pure pleasure to read. I hope to read future stories of Nicholas Elyot.
My Heart’s Home
I so love this book! The characters are genuine and the plot is intricate. But above all I enjoyed the walks arond Oxford. I had a 2 week study at St. Edmund Hall several years ago and in evenings we would ramble the quaint streets so much of what the protagonist recounts in his wallks took me back to my heart’s home – Oxford. Can’t wait for the next in the series.
Writing to die for…
I’m such a fan of Ann Swinfen, and this book lived up to my expectations ~ don’t ignore all those book promotion tweets flying past on Twitter, it’s how I discovered her!
This is a cosy sort of murder mystery set in Oxford, in which bookseller Nicholas Elyot discovers the body of a student from the university floating in the river. Sure he was murdered, Nicholas takes it upon himself to solve the crime. I felt the plot came second place to the historical interest of the story, which suited me fine. The book is intricately researched, and serves as an education about the time, in the most enjoyable way possible. Beautifully written, I could imagine every scene, whether in the busy streets of the town, in the cottages, the university grounds, the dark alleys on the dangerous side of town, the roads out to Banbury, or the lanes out to the water mills.
The time of the book was of added interest to me because it takes place just a short while after the Great Plague has died out; I learned much about the long-term effects of this pestilence. Interesting to read a post apocalyptic story from over 600 years ago; I suspect the people of the time dealt with it better than we would now, mostly because they were already equipped with the skills they would need.
The characters are real people, and, as with Ms Swinfen’s other books, I felt sad when I’d finished it and eager to read more. Highly recommended to all readers of well researched, literary historical fiction, and especially to anyone with a particular interest in the history of story writing, bookbinding and selling, and, of course, the history of Oxford.
Please write another
I can’t wait for a sequel! This book had everything I like about a historical mystery – excellent writing, a very engaging mystery plot, and characters you feel are realistic and make you care about them, as well as a vivid description of life and circumstances in 14th century Oxford. I really enjoyed the details describing the copying and binding of books – it never sounded like an inserted history lesson. I love to be in on the beginning of a new series (I hope it’s a series!) but waiting for the next book will be hard.
A Very Good Read
The best comment on this book is I slowed down reading it as I HATED to come to the end! A very enjoyable read and I am looking forward to the next book. In the meantime I will begin the other series this author has written which I am sure is done with as much skill looking at all the many positive reviews they have received.
What a Delight
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters are engaging, the plot is engaging, the locale is beautifully layed out and plays a significant role in the quality of the story, and the pacing never lags. I’ve only just recently discovered Ann Swinfen. It’s like a valuable gift that is unexpected. I fully intend to read as many books as she has written. I hope she adds to this series soon and frequently