The Girl in the Ice is the first book I read in the Stephen Attebrook series by Jason Vail. I liked it, but it wasn't a book that I loved. It is the latest in the series, and it appears that this one of those series that need to be read in order. I decided to begin at the beginning.
I found The Wayward Apprentice, the first in the series and discovered that I liked it much better than The Girl in Ice. Was it because I already had some familiarity with the main characters? Or is it really a better book? I think it is the better book, and there is a little more back story, but not a lot.
The Wayward Apprentice introduces the character of Stephen Attebrook, a knight who has lost almost everything but his horses and his armor. After nearly ten years fighting the Moors in Spain, a Moor with an ax cut off half of Stephen's foot. The injury prevents him from being terribly effective on horseback in a close battle, so his military days are over.
He is a second, and not favored, son. His opportunities for advancement were looking quite good in Spain until his injury. Then his wife dies of a fever, and somehow, not yet explained he loses the riches he had gained.
Back in England, he is forced to take the position of deputy coroner to the king in the small village of Ludlow.
When summoned to hold the inquest of a carter who is believed to have drowned, the verdict is that of an accidental death. Later, however, when the widow in preparing the body for burial, she discovers a knife wound. (The historic details concerning the duties of the coroner, the inquest, the way the legal system functions, the fees owed the king, etc. are all interesting and easily woven into the story.
There also develops another plot concerning the runaway apprentice of a rich merchant named Baynard that brings in the political divisions of the time between Henry III's supporters and those barons who support Simon de Montfort. Owing allegiance to the wrong side can be deadly, and though Stephen doesn't want to be caught up in the various plots, his position as coroner pulls him into some perilous situations. And when Baynard is murdered, Stephen must attempt to clear the young apprentice of the charge of murder.
A good mystery with the historic elements important, but not distracting. The characters are well developed, each having secrets and complex personalities. I was quickly drawn into the world of Ludlow, forming affection for some characters, and antipathy for others.
As soon as I finished, I downloaded the next in the series.
Baynard's List takes up some of the plot strands developed in the previous novel. The major plot thread in this novel concerns the list that the merchant Baynard kept. There was a list of Baynard's spies (Baynard supports the king) and a list of men believed to support Simon de Montfort. Both sides badly want the list.
If either side gained the list names, the result would be many deaths.
An old nemesis of Stephen's, Ademar de Valence, is the Crown Justice who desperately wants that list to gain favor and influence for himself. He takes Stephen's young son as a hostage to force Stephen to find the list and deliver it to him. Stephen's efforts involve him in a web of deceit, intrigue, and murder.
I thought this one was even better than The Wayward Apprentice; a satisfying plot, further development of the characters already introduced, and the addition of several new and interesting characters.
For some reason, all of these are 99 cents at Amazon. I consider myself lucky!
Read in March.
Medieval mystery. 2011. Print version: 219 pages.