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 situations 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.