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Books: Medieval mysteries

Books | Page-turning historical fiction about an age of sin and faith

Issue: "Louisiana's Buy-You-Election," May 17, 1997

It appears that the medieval mystery is alive and well. Four masters of historical fiction have recently turned their hands to the task of creating whodunnits set in the enigmatic glory years of Christendom. The results are supremely satisfying.

The King's Bishop is the fourth in an on-going series of mysteries by Candace Robb. Set in the great medieval trading center of York during the turbulent days of King Edward III, each of the books in the series features the struggles, loves, and adventures of Owen Archer, a soldier-sleuth of remarkable gifts. Ms. Robb has an eye for detail and a unique ability to bring her settings to life. But thankfully she never allows the exotic time and place to overwhelm the narrative flow.

Sharon Kay Penman has written a number of fine historical epics before. The Queen's Man is her first attempt at a mystery. Set in the wild and woolly days of the Plantagenets in England and France, the tale of intrigue, murder, and mayhem she tells masterfully captures the very essence of the age.

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Each of these novels is carefully crafted, beautifully told, and more than a little difficult to put down. But the best of the lot is Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead, an epic that spans the entire European continent across an entire lifetime-and yet it never seems to lose focus or momentum. In the story a young Celtic monk embarks on a journey to the opposite end of the known world-from remotest Ireland to urbane Byzantium. Along the way he encounters one perilous adventure after another. In the end he is utterly changed-but then so is the reader of his tale. This is moral fiction at its very best.

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