Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

2008. 277 pages (hardcover).

From: the public library

For the challenge: Thriller and Suspense 2010

In a nutshell:

This ‘medieval noir’ takes place in London 1384.  Crispin Guest, disgraced and disenfranchised knight, makes his trade as a ‘tracker,’ chasing down lost items, and other investigative work.  A wealthy merchant hires Guest to find out if his wife is being unfaithful.  When Guest returns to the merchant with his findings, he finds the man murdered.  The resulting investigation is complicated by false identities, holy relics, and lots of villains all too willing to commit violence against Guest and others.

Review:

After abandoning another historical mystery, Francine Mathews’ The Alibi Club, I restlessly chose Veil of Lies from my library stash as a replacement read.  It took me a little while to get into it, but in the end, it was worth the time.

I wasn’t enamored by Crispin Guest himself.  He’s kind of broody.  Also, maybe I’m tired of heroes in historical novels who are uncommonly humane for their time.  The other characters mentioned numerous times how unusual he is in that respect.  However, Guest isn’t entirely anachronistic, for which I was grateful.  Class matters much to him, though he is no longer in a position where it should.  He threw in his lot with a misguided cause and that led to his past downfall.  It is a fine line for the author to walk: to make the protagonist likable without being unrealistic to the time period.

My favorite character was Jack, Crispin’s young scrappy servant, who is paid with food and shelter.  I hope to see more of him in the next book.

The story is a potpourri of locked-room murder mystery, political intrigue, and romance, with some light supernatural shading.  I’m not sure it all worked together smoothly, but it definitely made for some surprising twists.

I’m not a connoisseur of noir mysteries, but my immediate standard for comparison was Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy, which are set in Nazi Germany.  (Excellent, but very dark, series.)  Kerr had the rat-a-tat, aloof noir-speak down pat, complete with the wry figurative language.  Westerson’s book doesn’t quite have that same sensibility, which is too bad.  The noir label doesn’t quite fit in my mind as a result.

Still, the medieval setting and characters are of enough interest that I will probably check out the next book in the series.

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2 Comments

Filed under Historical Fiction, Mysteries & Thrillers

2 responses to “Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

  1. “I’m tired of heroes in historical novels who are uncommonly humane for their time.” — I enjoyed this comment because I also dislike herroines who are uncharacteristically modern and feminist for their time.

  2. Flaws are interesting- I really wish more historical fiction writers would include some of the more discriminatory views of the period with their main character. Sure, they’re outdated and occasionally ugly, but they’re there. At least she notes it’s unusual for the time.

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