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Thursday, April 17, 2014

And Two More Medieval Mysteries

The King's Hounds by Martin Jensen, translation by Tara Chace.

This is an earlier period than most medieval mysteries I've read.  Set in 1018,  Cnut of Denmark (Cnut or Canute the Great was king of Denmark, England, Norway, and parts of Sweden) defeated Ethelred the Unready and married his widow, but though England is unified, it is still unsettled.

Halfdan, who is half Danish, half Saxon, is now a pauper since his father fought on the wrong side of the war.  He roams the country, stealing what he needs to survive and sleeping with any pretty and willing young woman he meets.

Winston is a respected illuminator on his way to a new commission when set upon by bandits.  Halfdan, who was actually going to try much the same thing, defeats the bandits and joins up with Winston.

A murder that coincides with their arrival in court results in Cnut deciding to charge the pair with solving the murder, which could prove politically explosive and derail Cnut's attempt to collect Danegeld and establish better relations between conquered and conquerors.

I liked the humor found in this novel as well as the historical background.  My main complaint is the modern phrases that are included.  These are probably the fault of the translator, but they are jarring. 

Overall, I liked the characters and the novel and will probably read more by Jensen.

Medieval Mystery.  2013 (not sure of original publ. date in Denmark).  Print version:  274 pages. 

Winter Heart by Margaret Frazer is set in the 15th century and features Sister (now Domina) Frevisse as the sleuth.

Frevisse must try to discover the circumstances behind a murder in order to save the life of a man she suspects to be innocent.

I didn't realize it was a novella when I ordered it, and I'm not fond of novellas.  Nevertheless,  Sister Frevisse is an interesting and capable protagonist who solves the murder by using the tried and true cui bono method.

Medieval Mystery.  2011.  Print version:  52 pages.

Both novels read in March.


  1. Novellas are too short. I'm often left thinking, "That's it?"

    Jensen's book sounds interesting. I always wonder how much is changed with translation. I haven't read too many I think were badly translated (how would I know, really?), but it crosses my mind, especially when the writing is a bit stilted or doesn't seem to be consistent with the setting.

  2. Wendy- Novellas are kind of frustrating, aren't they? I want more than novellas usually offer.

    There are only a few works that I've read in various translations, but they offer insight into different ways of reading a passage. It is really interesting in older works like Beowulf or the Greeks, but in modern works, I don't seek out different translations, and like you don't even notice much unless something jars a little.

  3. I'm not very fond of novellas either. I always feel like it's not enough story! :)

    Glad you enjoyed these.

  4. I wonder if an author sets out to write a novella? Are they short stories that demanded more time? Are they curtailed novels?