Review of ‘The Mark of a Murderer’ by Susanna Gregory

mark-of-murdererPseudonymous Susanna Gregory launches us into her eleventh Matthew Bartholomew mystery with alacrity and yet again confounds her seasoned reader with a darkly convoluted tale that weaves in the fear of a rabid animal and the potential for riot with head scratching enigma. Gregory opens her prologue during a Scholastica Day riot in Oxford that leaves sixty scholars dead and twice as many townspeople. All instigated by the dark monk.
Moving forward some months we find ourselves at Michaelhouse where Matthew is stealing out nightly to Mathilde’s house and not being very inconspicuous about it. Being the gossip of the town doesn’t sit well with our reflective sleuth and we quickly find Michael dragging him off to Merton Hall to investigate the stabbing of an Oxford scholar, Chesterfelde, one of a party of Oxford merchants and scholars who have left Oxford for a variety of reasons. Our suspect list builds quickly as Matthew discovers the real cause of death is a slashed wrist. In Michael’s sights are Daurant (Matthew’s Oxford teacher, a poppy juice addict), Polmorva (Matthew’s sworn enemy from his Oxford days) and Spryngheuse (one of the monks involved in the early fight in Oxford that led to the riot). Aside from Chesterfelde, there was also Okehamptone who appears to have died from a fever en route. Accompanying them are three Oxford merchants, Wormynghalle, a tanner, Abergavenny, a burgess and Eu the spicer each tasked by Joan Goneral to find the murderer of her husband during the riots. His dying breath condemned a Cambridge scholar and they have come to seek his assailant. Throw into the mix the Merton Hall residents of Eudo, a tenant, and Boltone, bailiff of Merton Hall together with the impending visit of archbishop Islip to potentially found a new college and you have a heady brew of mystery in a political tinderbox.
Woven into the tale is King’s Hall whose inhabitants of Wolfe, Norton, Hamescotes and Wormynghalle all take major supporting roles alongside the stationer Weasenham and his Langelee-loving wife, Alyce. The other Cambridge physicians take a large role here, particularly with Rougham having been attacked by the mysterious wolf and Clippesby is given a greater starring role as he acts as a useful witness whose mildly insane method of reporting confounds and exasperates us all.
By the end the riot is staved off, hell hath no fury like a woman denied her right to study and Matthew intends to marry Mathilde. It ends on a slightly sour note as our hero trots off to propose whilst she’s heading out of the gate thinking he’ll never get round to it. I do hope Gregory sorts it out as she’s created a character that any fan of the series will have invested an emotional interest in plus it’ll be interesting to see how she can keep them together and not have Matt renounce his career.
We’ll see.
What makes Gregory all the more plausible is the rich historical note where she details that the major events really occurred and characters are all based on real personages. It makes it even more impressive.
This is one author at the height of her literary powers and needs far more exposure to the public than she gets at the moment.
Read it.

Categories: Book Reviews, Matthew Bartholomew, Susanna Gregory

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