Regicide by David Boyle has two unusual protagonists: Hilary the Englishman and Peter Abelard. Hilary is a clerk in Holy Orders, but not a priest (an ambivalent situation, neither fish nor fowl); he makes his living as a wandering scholar--feeling guilty about his tendencies toward lust, drink, and gambling. Peter Abelard, of course, is the brilliant philosopher, scholar, theologian, and logician of the middle ages. Although both men really existed and the story has a lot of historical references, the plot has to do with the suspicious death of William Rufus, third son of William the Conqueror.
Hilary has been dismissed from his pleasant situation as tutor after the death of his student Alys. Full of self-pity and short of money, he meets a stranger and--after having had too much to drink and losing a bet--agrees to carry certain documents to Count Fulk in Anjou. On awakening the next morning, he finds he has not only the documents but a pouch of coins to finance his journey.
He also discovers that his new friend has been gruesomely murdered. Afraid that 1) he will be accused and hanged, and 2) that the murderer will come for him, Hilary departs in a panic with the intention of seeking help from his old tutor Peter Abelard.
The journey moves throughout France, to Jerusalem, and to England as the two attempt to solve the mystery. When I was in elementary school, I loved the story of Abelard and Heloise, but as an adult, I had to face that story wasn't quite as romantic as it can sound if reduced to a few sentences. The author manages to reveal Abelard's flaws as well as his strengths.
What I liked: all the historical aspects. I knew nothing about William Rufus, other than that his daughter Matilda succeeded him. There is an interesting tidbit about the Bayeux Tapestry that I had not heard before; the beauty of the Alfred Jewel and a different version of its purpose adds interest; and I had never heard that William IX, Duke of Aquitaine was the first troubadour. All of the history is woven smoothly into the plot, and I've always been interested in this period, so I enjoyed it. I was quite busy researching what was accurate and what was plot device.
On the downside: The book felt a little too long and the pacing was uneven. Two or three places were confusing. The chapter headings would name a place and a time, then there were a few paragraphs relating to that place and time, then with no transition or warning there were paragraphs that were about an earlier part of the trip. I'd be reading along, then suddenly feel boggled--had I missed something? No, an unannounced time switch. Further editing of content is needed to take care of this problem by either putting things in chronological order or by letting you know that a flashback is coming.
Historic Mystery. July 22, 2016. Print length: 356 pages.