by Kathleen Costa
This week we have a review of the final book in the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir mystery series by Jeri Westerson, along with a fun interview with Jeri about the series, her other writing, and the virtual launch event that will be taking place on December 19. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of the first book in the series, Cup of Blood, and a link to purchase the new one from Amazon.
The Deadliest Sin: A Crispin Guest Mystery By Jeri Westerson
Review by Kathleen Costa
Crispin Guest, a Medieval Sam Spade
Crispin Guest has, over the past twenty years, become comfortable with his serious fall from grace. He was implicated in a treasonous plot against the crown, but instead of being separated from his head, he was banished, lost everything from title to property, and would be denied for all times any support other than that he could make for himself. He relied on his wits to find employment, but as a detective, of sorts, investigating various crimes that often resulted in murder, he found his calling, eking out a respectful life as the Tracker of London. He is joined in his efforts by apprentice, and close friend, Jack Tucker, with whom he shares his lodgings along with Jack’s wife and children, and together they have garnered a noteworthy reputation.
It’s winter, 1399, and Crispin is called to the death bed of his former mentor John of Guant, Duke of Lancaster. His investigation entrapped Crispin in the conspiracy, but it was the Duke’s personal plea for leniency that saved Crispin’s life. The old man pleaded for forgiveness, to which a teary-eyed Crispin replied “aye.” Later, Crispin learns the crown has denied the transfer of John’s title and estate to John’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, since Henry had also been exiled for his own alleged crimes. Crispin accepts a new tracking job, but the news that Henry has returned with an army, intent on reclaiming, by force it seems, his family’s legacy denied him by the king raises many questions and concerns for Crispin. Can he find redemption for his past errors or will he again be ensnared in another coup?
The Deadliest Sin Earns 5+/5 Religious Relics…Compelling, Clever Favorite!
It’s August, and the heat of the summer exacerbates the heat of emotions, so Crispin is confidant a new tracking job will soon find him. Enjoying an ale with his apprentice, his prediction comes true with the appearance of a young boy, “You’re that Tracker they talk of, aren’t you?” Saint Frideswide Priory’s Lady Prioress is distressed by the recent deaths by “misadventure” at the priory. First, their apothecary died suddenly of fever, then, days later, two nuns died under suspicious and gruesome circumstances. While Crispin and Jack were there reviewing the details, a theft is discovered as well as a third victim right under their noses. Crispin sets to look more closely at the priory and is intrigued how the murders eerily appear to reference a mural depicting the seven deadly sins. Motive is difficult to identify, but more worrisome is the killer may be inside the priory. Crispin’s attentions, however, are not fully on the task for which he’s been hired. Each new day reports arrive of the disgruntled Henry’s march on London, but it is his former squire, Edward Grafton, now held in high esteem at court, who may be the greater disappointment.
Ring the Bells! Jeri Westerson has done Crispin Guest proud, leaving me in tears, with a brilliant final book in this medieval noir mystery. She’s linked the multiple murders to the “Seven Deadly Sins” and resolved well several storylines shared throughout the series. Her engaging narrative describes a fascinating history behind the priory itself, the meaning of the relics housed there, use of herbal remedies, and even rumors of a ghost centuries old. Crispin’s rigorous investigation reveals varied theories and motives, and although the strong-willed prioress, guarded witnesses and suspects, and uncooperative priest frequently impede his efforts, it’s his wit and cleverness, his apprentice’s eagerness and budding expertise, and an undercover scheme that prove his worthy as a famous tracker. The endearing father/son dynamic several times over, an gripping mystery, historical details, and references to class and gender struggles makes this a top favorite for my best of 2021!
The medieval era with which many, like me, are not comfortably familiar, Jeri has included a valuable “Glossary” defining terms and providing background information beyond that which can be gleaned in context. Ebook readers might find it more convenient to have specific words linked directly to their Glossary entry for real-time help…just saying. And do not overlook the “Afterword.” It is additionally informative.
Google-worthy! The history behind the reign of King Richard II is fascinating and used well as the backdrop for Crispin Guests’s story. The Priory of Saint Frideswide may not be in London as Westerson’s literary license shows, but it is well worth a google: from Saint Frideswide herself, patron Saint of Oxford and it’s university, to the priory in her name. Even the Seven Deadly Sins deserves a visit. [Links are to Wikipedia articles.]
Be a Big Jeri Westerson Fan!
Award winning author of “medieval mysteries, historicals, and paranormals,” Jeri Westerson takes readers to different eras, different setting, and different characters, real and unreal. She wrote Roses in the Tempest: A Tale of Tudor England along with the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series transporting readers to the fourteenth century, the urban fantasy series Booke of the Hidden, and the Enchanter Chronicles, a gaslamp fantasy-steampunk series. She also writes the Moonriser: A Werewolf mystery series, and under the name Haley Walsh, the humorous Skyler Foxe LQBT mysteries.
Interview with Jeri Westerson:
Jeri: The Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Mysteries started as a risky idea. I wanted something different from the usual fare of monks and nuns as detectives. Something I felt I could sink my teeth into, that also might be a breakout book. So I got the idea to write a hardboiled detective in the medieval setting, a private eye, but keep it accurate to the time period. Hardboiled detectives are mostly loners with a chip on their shoulders, with a lot of hard drinking and hard fighting. And a sucker for a dame in trouble. Once I figured out Crispin Guest’s background and how he could have become hardened by life (he committed treason and instead of a very messy death, his mentor the Duke of Lancaster pleaded for his life, and so he was dispossessed of his wealth and title and set loose on the streets of London with only the clothes on his back and his wits), I had my tropey character. He calls himself the “Tracker”, a man for hire to find things, and what he usually finds is murder. He also finds religious relics and venerated objects, and these things appear in every book, either as the center of the action, as a red herring, or something off to the side. They have consisted of things like the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Grail, Jesus’ blood, and venerated objects like Excalibur and the Philosopher’s Stone. He is naturally at odds with the various sheriffs of London, the court, and his former courtiers. It took him years to reconcile that the people who accepted him the most were the very people he would have ignored as a nobleman, the average person and the lower classes. “Medieval Noir” just seemed like a good description. Kind of catchy. I know many a reader who gave it a try just for that moniker.
KRL: How did it happen that you decided to write a medieval noir series?
KRL: Why did you choose a disgraced knight as your main character/detective?
Jeri: To make it all work. He will have had the training necessary to be able to fight, have a facility with languages, know from battle experience how long a corpse had been a corpse, to be able to move through the wealthy circles as well as the poorer ones…for sixpence a day, plus expenses. Once I found out how he had been disgraced, his character made sense to me and I knew him instantly. It made for plenty of drama, and plenty of room for him to evolve over the span of fifteen books.
KRL: What sort of research have you done?
Jeri: Gobs and gobs of it. Having some knowledge already of the late fourteenth century, I had only to fill in the gaps about specific people who travel through the books (like John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, Gaunt’s longtime mistress and eventual wife Katherine Swynford, Gaunt’s son Henry Bolingbroke, King Richard II, and let’s not forget Geoffrey Chaucer–the reason I picked this particular time period to begin with so that he could show up in the books as a former friend of Crispin’s. One of the novels in the series, Troubled Bones, is essentially the Canterbury Tales…with murder). Other research involved what London looked like back then, the streets, the shops, what people ate and drank, what clothes they wore (because this informs how they move), the various rules of society since it’s a very stratified society with different levels of formality depending on who you are and who you are dealing with. And all the political activity in the background that affected the everyday London citizen.
KRL: Why did you decide to end the series with this book?
Jeri: The Deadliest Sin is the fifteenth book in the series. Fifteen seems like a good number. I had always planned to end the series at the natural ending following the timeline, when King Richard gets deposed. And I didn’t want to write the series forever, possibly getting stale and repetitive. I don’t think that a series can go on forever and still be surprising to readers. It’s also about having control of the ending and how it happens. It left my mind free to develop other series.
KRL: How does it feel to be done with this series?
Jeri: Bittersweet. That I won’t be spending any more time with these characters, but also a bit of a relief to be getting on with other things to write.
KRL: What are you working on next?
Jeri: I have only just handed in a new book, the beginning of a series I’ve been thinking about for some years but seemed to have been Crispin-blocked, A Tudor mystery series called the King’s Fool Mysteries with Henry VIII’s real court jester Will Somers as the amateur sleuth. As court jester, he can be anywhere he wishes at court and say anything he likes. Which can get him into slippery situations. It is humorous–as a book about a court jester naturally should be, with every Tudor fart joke I could find–but it still has the pathos and puzzling murders readers have come to expect of my writing. So I’ve just handed over the first, Courting Dragons, to my agent and we’ll see where it goes from there. I plan on this as either a six-book series or a nine book series; six because one for each wife, or nine because one for each wife AND then three more for each subsequent Tudor monarch (Will Somers survived through the reigns of all of Henry’s children.) I’m writing shorter series these days on the advice of my agent. You’re in and out with a shorter series, leaving you time to get on to other projects and for readers to not have to wait so long if you have character arcs to get through. I just ended my gaslamp-steampunk fantasy series, The Enchanter Chronicles Trilogy, with the release of the last book, Library of the Damned. It afforded me the opportunity to research an entirely different era for a change, late Victorian London, which led me to another series idea I’ve been working on, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche where one of his Baker Street Irregulars–all grown up now–opens his own consulting detective agency and finds himself working in the shadow of the Great Man only to be outflanked and just a step behind him. Until he gets a case Holmes won’t take. That is the Irregular Detective Mysteries, and the first is called The Isolated Séance.
KRL: How fun can’t wait to check all these new books out! Please tell us about your virtual launch?
Jeri: It was disappointing having to cancel my in-person launch, but I will try to make it just as special on Facebook. There will be plenty of videos–introductions, readings, jousting knights, and answering readers’ questions–besides all the interaction and fun of my usual virtual launches (I’ve been doing them for some years well before the pandemic, trying to allow readers out of my area in different states and countries to attend), with some really fabulous giveaways. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, you are able to attend.
It’s to be on Sunday, December 19 at 2 p.m. Pacific. I had a little technical trouble from Facebook when I was launching Library of the Damned, so if that persists for this launch, we will simply move it to my regular Facebook page (which means, unfortunately, you WILL have to have a Facebook account). The virtual page is at here and my regular Facebook page is www.facebook.com/author.westerson. I hope everyone can stop by and get a chance to win some prizes. Three of the prizes are framed original artwork created by artist Juanbjuan Oliver of Crispin and Jack. They are all three dark and moody and different from each other.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Jeri: It’s been a very special experience writing these books. Readers, librarians, and bookstore owners have all been very supportive along the way. I think fifteen is a good run. They started at St. Martin’s under the Minotaur imprint with Veil of Lies, and it was a dream come true being published for the first time by a big New York publisher. Unfortunately, they wanted to part ways after six books in the series when I felt I still had many more tales to tell of the Tracker. My agent had confidence that there was still life in the series too, so he began to shop it around. It’s always difficult trying to shop an established series. Some publishers don’t want to have to jump in in the middle without the benefit of publishing the first few. And this was just at the end of those days that if a publisher dropped you, that was the end. But, fortunately, we were emerging into the age of self-publishing. So, knowing it might take a while for my agent to sell the next book, I didn’t want a year to go by without a Crispin novel on bookstore shelves, so I dusted off the original first in the series that St. Martin’s had passed on—Cup of Blood—rewrote some of it, got it edited, and self-published it as a “prequel.” It was so well received it garnered two mystery award nominations (in all, the series received 13 nominations from the Agatha to the Shamus). And then Severn House picked up the series starting with The Silence of the Stones and did a great job with them. They were saddened when I wanted to end it with The Deadliest Sin. Hopefully, we’ll work together again.
Anyone can chat with me on Facebook or Instagram. And if readers would like a signed bookplate for any of my books, they need only contact me through my website JeriWesterson.com, a place to discover ALL my other books.
To enter to win an ebook copy of Cup of Blood, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “cup,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 27, 2021. Only US entries and you must be at least 18 to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. Two Christmas episodes went up this month!
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