October 10, 2002

Death and the Chapman, and The Plymouth Cloak, by Kate Sedley

Sedley writes mysteries set in 1400's in England during the War of the Roses. Her detective is Roger the Chapman, a failed monk who peddles door to door from his pack--oddments like laces, needles, pins and assorted pieces of fabric. The conceit is that he is telling each story looking back on his life from old age, 50 years after the action has taken place. "Death and the Chapman" is the first in the series and sets up the life of Roger leaving the monastery to seek his fortune on the road after his mother dies and frees him from his obligation to fulfill her wishes that he become a monk. The cloistered life is not for him so he buys a pack of inventory from a retiring Chapman and sets out. He discovers, eventually, that the son of a wealthy Alderman has disappeared on a journey to London and promises to investigate when he reaches London.

The Plymouth Cloak follows shortly afterwards when Roger is asked to protect a messenger of the Duke of Gloucester on his journey to deliver a secret letter to France. The Plymouth Cloak refers to the club that Roger carries as his weapon on the journey. Unfortunately, he and the messenger are not particularly compatible and his discovery that the guy has engaged in kidnapping young children and dwarves and selling them to royalty for court jesters doesn’t endear him either. They are attacked and Roger must figure out if the attacks are directed at the message they carry or are retribution for the messenger's former shady trade.

These were ok mysteries. The action dragged in places and I often wished she'd hurry up and put something into the plot to make it more interesting. The period detail was there but could have been done better. Roger isn't a compelling detective. He seems to stumble upon the answer rather than figure it out. I kept comparing these books to Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael mysteries and they seriously fall short of the standard Peters created. I have one more in the series that I purchased along with these so perhaps they will improve as they go along. If you like medieval mysteries, they might be worth picking up at a used bookstore. I doubt I would pay full price for them, though. There are too many really good mysteries out there.

Posted by Deb English at October 10, 2002 06:02 PM