Knight, Bernard - 'A Plague of Heretics'
This book, set in November 1196, is the latest in the long-running series that features Coroner Sir John de Wolfe and his colleagues. Despite the fact that it took me a good few chapters to settle into the book, I ended up loving it! "Crowner John" is a very honest and upright fellow, with an eye for the ladies that truly infuriates his less than amiable wife. He also has an eye for the law and an uncanny knack of solving crimes, regardless of the way his verdicts don't do him any favours with the guilty parties, whoever they may be.
In this instalment, someone is murdering people who speak out against the Holy Catholic Church and there are cries of heresy in the air. The church is somewhat reluctant to take definite action while its bishop is away, but public opinion has been stirred up by hard-liner Catholics - laymen as well as clergy - and several are obviously deciding to take matters into their own hands. John wants to get to the bottom of it and, as a result, is labelled a sympathiser. This could spell trouble for him as well, as the power of the church at this time seems to be stronger than the law of the land.
To make matters worse, there is an outbreak of 'yellow plague' in Exeter and the surrounding villages. To his horror, John's own brother is struck down with it and his life is hanging in the balance. Then John's clerk Thomas, the affable little priest, is similarly afflicted and things look very dark indeed for John, who needs to avoid catching the plague himself, as well as survive the accusations of the pious and, worst of all, the sharply pointed tongue of Matilda, his wife.
In addition to being an excellent tale, A PLAGUE OF HERETICS is a beautifully detailed account of life in the English countryside in the Middle Ages and clearly portrays the harsh realities resulting from the lack of effective medical treatments at that time. I particularly like the details of the food that John and his wife are served by their maid. John is a very likeable character and, thankfully, easy to get to know without having read the previous books about his life.
If you are already a fan of Crowner John, then this book will certainly far from disappoint and if you love historical crime fiction then this will tick all your boxes too. Very highly recommended.
Amanda Gillies, Scotland