The Serpent in the Thorns: A Medieval Noir

A fallen knight solves a mystery to save King Richard III

Rating: Four Stars
By Gabrielle Pantera

serpent.in.the.thorns“So there I am, climbing in my bathrobe because I haven’t tidied up for the day yet, and the bathrobe gets caught,” says The Serpent and the Thorn author Jeri Westerson. “ I slip and end up wedged between ladder and bookshelf in my office…with bare legs and bare arse below, bathrobe above, hanging in my window like a side of beef…a naked side of beef.”

“Then I hear the Corky’s Pest Control guy coming into the backyard to do his monthly spraying,” says Westerson. “I struggle a bit more, using my sword [the author keeps a medieval broadsword handy] to work the caught bathrobe off the ladder until I crash down on the floor just as Mr. Corky passes by my office window.”

Westerson likes to act out the physical action of her stories, just to make sure it works. “There’s a lot of me scrambling around up ladders and such, swinging weapons around,” says Westerson. “Imagine, if you will, a fairly round, middle-aged, Jewish mother type, swinging from the rafters.”

The Serpent in the Thorns is the second novel in the Crispin Guest series. Former English knight Crispin Guest is known as the tracker now. He was dishonored when he was implicated in a plot against King Richard II. Guest lives on the mean streets of London tracing missing persons, objects and murders. Guest is hired by Grayce, a simple-minded tavern servant who claims she killed a man in her room. It’s a French courier carrying the Crown of Thorns, a gift for King Richard II from the King of France. Guest must solve the mystery to save the king.

“After struggling to get many years’ worth of historical fiction published, and getting nowhere, I warmed to the idea of writing historical mystery,” says Westerson. “It seemed like a wider market. I’m so entrenched in the medieval era with my writing and research. But, I didn’t want to add to the monk and nun detective genre. I wanted something grittier, with a dark and brooding protagonist who could be an action hero and still be true to his time period.”

“I started kicking around the idea of a hard-boiled detective along the lines of a Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade and placing him in the Middle Ages, blending my two favorite mystery genres,” says Westerson.

Westerson says the fallen knight character offers not only the masculine perspective on the world but also his prejudices of class and his own journey to fit into the lowest dregs of society, a place he now calls home.

For the historical details needed for each book, like archery, certain laws that fit into the plot, medieval medicine, and the life of public figures, Westerson researches at libraries and online. “I find that archivists in England are some of the friendliest people and so very generous with their time,” says Westerson.

Serpent in the Thorns is an enjoyable read with swashbuckling adventure and a fast pace to the writing. It’s a historical mystery suspense that guys will enjoy reading, too.

Serpent in the Thorns: A Medieval Noir. Hardcover,  288 pages, Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1 edition (September 29, 2009). Language: English, ISBN: 9780312534981 $24.99