Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Lancelot Murders - J.M.C. Blair


The Lancelot Murders
A Merlin Investigation
J.M.C. Blair
Berkley Prime Crime

Historical Mystery

Arthur’s dream was to unite all Britons under one rule and to make England a power to be respected throughout Europe. His faithless wife, Guenevere and her consort, Lancelot, have other ideas. Just months after the events of THE EXCALIBUR MURDERS, from their base at Corfe Castle, they’re plotting to present themselves to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian as the rightful rulers of England. They have gone so far as to hold a public wedding ceremony, even exchanging gifts of gilded daggers, as if Arthur didn’t exist. Unfortunately for Guenevere, there are spies in her court that carry news of these plans to Arthur and his advisor, Merlin.

Merlin, who has no use for spies in general, sees the wisdom in using the information provided. The original plan was to use Guenevere’s birthday celebration as a reason to gather dignitaries from all over Europe. Arthur and Merlin decide to go ahead with these plans, but to be on hand to welcome the visitors and run the meetings, cutting Guenevere and Lancelot out, entirely. Naturally, Guenevere’s aged parents, minor French royalty angling for more power, arrive for the occasion. Just before the meetings are to begin, Guenevere’s father dies, stabbed to death by Lancelot with one of the wedding daggers. Lancelot was standing over the body, and one of Arthur’s spies claims to have witnessed the crime.

Unwilling to have his first international conclave destroyed, Arthur determines to bring the murderer to justice immediately and prove to all assembled that he is truly in control of his country and his people. It looks fairly obvious that Lancelot killed his erstwhile father-in-law. But there are facts that make no sense. Arthur asks Merlin to get to the bottom of things.

This version of Camelot is a very real-world version. Merlin is simply a scholar and physician. Arthur is a man conflicted. He desperately wanted to be king and to usher in an era of peace and prosperity for England, only to see many of his dreams dashed. Even his marriage is destroyed by his wife’s open adultery and obvious ambition for herself and Lancelot. Meeting Guenevere’s parents, it’s easy to see how she came to be the woman that she is. Arthur, who married for love, spends a good deal of time drunk and bemoaning the loss of his wife. Thankfully, Merlin verbally slaps him when he needs it.

With so many foreign dignitaries, spies, and even servants, there’s a large pool of suspects and more motives than might be expected. There’s an interesting subplot concerning the first Pope sending a bishop to the meeting. Christianity is new and mostly unwelcome in England at this point. Merlin has to explain the terms “pope” and “bishop” to Arthur, who dismisses them. His sister, Morgan Le Fay, is more openly hostile to the new religion. All in all, it’s a very interesting look at what life might really have been like in those times. The characters that have become larger-than-life through legends are presented here as human beings with strengths and frailties, negotiating a changing world. I hope to see many more volumes in this series.

Rating: 8
May 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22813-5 (paperback)

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