by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we have a review of the latest Crispin Guest novel from mystery writer Jeri Westerson, a behind the book interview with Jeri, & information on her upcoming event at Mysterious Galaxy. Also, there are instructions on how you can win a copy of the book at the end of this post.
Jeri will be signing copies of Shadow of the Alchemist at Mysterious Galaxy’s Redondo Beach store-2810 Artesia Blvd., Redondo Beach, California, October 27, at 3:30 p.m. Also at the end of this post is a link to purchase a copy of the book from Mysterious Galaxy if you can’t be at the signing. If you order before the event you can ask for a signed copy.
Shadow of the Alchemist By Jeri Westerson
Shadow of the Alchemist is the latest Medieval Noir mystery from Jeri Westerson featuring The Tracker Crispin Guest. This one is filled with all of the normal adventure, along with some alchemists, an unusual deaf mute and the mythical Philosopher’s Stone.
Crispin was once a knight, but after being stripped of his title and wealth, he was forced to live by his wits. He had a knack for finding things, so ended up becoming a private detective of sorts called The Tracker, hiring himself out to “find” things–and sometimes those “things” include a murderer! His reformed thief apprentice, Jack Tucker, helps him in these adventures.
In this story, Crispin is hired by a French alchemist named Nicholas Flamel to find his kidnapped wife. When he begins to investigate, he first finds the alchemist’s house ransacked and his assistant dead. There is a ransom note stating that his wife will be returned in exchange for a stone that the alchemist later admits is The Philosopher’s Stone, which is said to turn lead into gold and bring eternal life. Crispin is skeptical about this stone, but during his investigation starts to question if it might be real. One thing for sure, there are others out there that believe it is real and would do anything to get it, possibly including an old friend of Crispin’s from his past as a knight.
An added twist to the story is Flamel’s servant Avelyn, who is deaf and mute. She is a mysterious soul who follows Crispin and not only helps solve the mystery, but also teaches Crispin how to communicate with her and to his own surprise, helps ease his loneliness. Jack feels threatened by Avelyn, afraid she will take his place. I felt this added some really nice depth to the story and the characters.
There are a lot of twists and turns in this book that kept me guessing all the way through as to whom was behind all of this, and nothing was ever quite what it seemed. Crispin, while a bit gruff on the outside, is an interesting character struggling deeply with his lost past and the hopelessness of his current situation. Yet he always comes through in the end with the help of Jack, who has become almost more like a son or little brother than just an apprentice.
Not only do I love the characters in this book and the setting is not only interesting, but brought to life so perfectly by Jeri Westerson. Take a mystery and set it in the time of knights and kings, and as far as I’m concerned you have the perfect combination!
I anxiously await the next book in this series, and wonder if Avelyn may return and fill a void in Crispin’s life–might he at last find lasting love?
If you enjoy a good mystery–don’t miss Shadow of the Alchemist. If you also love Medieval times with sword fights and knights-then you can’t miss this book, or this series! It’s just way too much fun.
Interview with Jeri Westerson
KRL: How did you come up with the idea for your current book? Especially including alchemy?
Jeri: I thought the whole idea of alchemists–part scientist, part sorcerer–was very intriguing and wanted to incorporate them into a Crispin book. There is so much backdrop to a medieval story–the Church, relics and their mysticism, war, politics, tournaments, superstition, mores and social order, general life in the Middle Ages–that I don’t think I can run out of ideas for Crispin to come across or comment on. Even Geoffrey Chaucer included an alchemist and his assistant (the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale) in The Canterbury Tales. That brings alchemists into the general culture of the time.
KRL: Did you have to do a lot of research?
Jeri: Always. You don’t want to get any of it wrong. Number one, someone will always catch you on it, and number two, as an author I want it to be as correct as possible. Readers walk away believing what they read is true, even in a novel. My afterward tries to set straight what is fiction and what is not, but that never includes the history. The history is as correct as I can get it.
With alchemy, there is a great deal of symbolism when you are talking about it, and symbolism and secret languages cannot fail to fascinate. But there is a lot of extrapolated data and one must be careful to grab only that which is medieval and not more modern conclusions.
KRL: Is there really a myth about the philosopher’s stone?
Jeri: Very much so. In the west, the main concern about the philosopher’s stone was turning simple metals into gold. But in the east, it was the quest for immortality. These ideas eventually blended into one Great Work.
KRL: I have to ask, were you inspired at all by the use of the stone myth in Harry Potter?
Jeri: To a small extent. I knew Nicholas Flamel was a real person but I just didn’t know if he was in Crispin’s timeframe and was delighted when I discovered he was. His presence in the tale adds verisimilitude; another true thing to hang my fiction upon.
KRL: Is the historical side of what is going on in London in this book true to what was happening at the time?
Jeri: Oh yes. Trouble is brewing. If you or your readers have been watching the British Hollow Crown series on PBS, this is the Shakespeare cycle of plays that begins with Richard II. It is a wonderfully acted performance of one of Shakespeare’s oft neglected plays. It demonstrates the recognized flaws in Richard’s character that got him into trouble. It wasn’t that he was a bad king; it’s just that he wasn’t a particular good one.
He had an idea about the monarchy that he was king by divine right, which he knows best, that he could do essentially whatever he wanted. This might be what comes from taking the throne at ten years old.
KRL: Will Crispin ever find true love that lasts?
Jeri: Yes, but not in this book.
KRL: Have you already started working on the next book?
Jeri: No, not yet. Ordinarily, that next book would already have been in the can, but my current publisher has decided not to publish any more Crispin books. So while my agent is looking for other publishers, I started to pursue other avenues, other genres. I wrote an urban fantasy series, sort of halfway between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sookie Stackhouse, called Booke of the Hidden, with a feisty female protagonist, quirky Wiccans, a sexy demon, dangerous paranormal creatures, all set in a small Maine village with humor, romance, and just a bit of edginess. Now that the first book in the six-book series is in the can, I will soon be working on my Jack Tucker young adult three-book series. And THEN I’ll get to the next Crispin book. If we can’t find a publisher, I will simply self-publish the rest of the Crispin series. I am so not done telling his story.
KRL: Do you have another big book launch planned? Or if it has already happened please tell us about it.
Jeri: The book launch is happening on October 19 at 5 p.m. at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena, CA. If you’re in the area, come on down! Free-flowing mead, raffle baskets, a PowerPoint about alchemists and the streets of London, and, if we’re lucky, armored knights in a duel.
KRL: I know you were dropped by your publisher, which is so sad for your fans, but understand you are determined to continue publishing Crispin’s stories. Is there any news in that area?
Jeri: As I said above, we are looking at our options. I would certainly like to get in with another publisher, but if that’s not possible, I will self-publish them. There is a Crispin book that is unpublished that is set before Veil of Lies that I want to develop into a graphic novel, so that’s a prequel on the horizon. There is also my Oswald The Thief medieval caper series that still needs a publishing home, the urban fantasy, the Jack Tucker Tales, and the next Crispin. Lots of things on my plate. It’s ridiculously hard to make a living at writing. You have to be open to all sorts of directions. But I won’t write anything that doesn’t interest me. I won’t write in a genre simply because I think it’s more commercially viable without liking writing it. I started out writing fantasy novels (when I was a teen) so I’m sort of getting back to my roots with Booke of the Hidden and The Changling Tithe (the Jack Tucker YA book). So we’ll see what happens.
KRL: Do you have any other books in the works?
Jeri: Under the name Haley Walsh, I also write a series of adult gay mysteries with high school English teacher and amateur sleuth Skyler Foxe. So that’s even more on my plate.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Jeri: Just that I hope readers will be patient and open to the other books I write. I know that some are just mad for historical and really don’t read other things, but I also know that there are many others willing to ride with me. Paranormals are soooo fun to write. And if it’s fun for the author to write, chances are they are fun to read, too. I hope for good things with that series. And also remember that it is helpful for a book’s sales numbers if readers review an author’s books on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Because it doesn’t matter how much you like a series, if the numbers aren’t there, publishers won’t continue to publish them. Thanks for reading, everyone!
Learn more about Jeri and her writing on her website.
To enter to win a copy of Shadow of the Alchemist, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Shadow,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 26, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Use this link to purchase a copy of Jeri’s book and you help support an indie bookstores & KRL: