Friday, December 7, 2012

An Older Evil by Lindsay Townsend


Alyson Weaver of Bath has already married five husbands and is still irrepressibly in her prime. When a handsome young stranger is murdered in her meadow overlooking St. Michael’s church, she resents it when her admirer, bailiff Lucas Fletcher, warns her not to interfere. Lucas has been intimidated into not investigating, but by whom? After her maid Bela is killed, Alyson decides to find out.

A group of pilgrims - including Alice Perrers, the notorious former mistress of King Edward III - are preparing to leave for the shrine of the Virgin at Walsingham in Norfolk. Before they set out, one of their number, Brother Martin, a friar, confesses to the manslaughter of the handsome stranger, named as Jehan of Flanders, and joins the pilgrimage as a penance, thus Jehan’s killing is "solved." Alyson is unconvinced, and sees Brother Martin as a pitiful puppet and someone is pulling his strings. Taking her mischievous godson Oliver as her page, Alyson joins the pilgrims to find out.


The story opens with a dramatic event, the murder of a young man, witnessed by Alyson Weaver and committed on her land, but his identity and who wants him dead are a mystery.

From this premise, the story sets off at a run and maintains a cracking pace throughout events which are as confusing  as they are revealing. When Alyson’s own servants are caught up in the tragedy, she is determined to discover the culprit, despite being treated like a half witted child – i.e a woman!  Alyson has outlived five husbands and thus owns a wealth of experience which she enlists to judge the assortment of superior, ambitious and ruthless men she is forced to deal with.

Lindsay Townsendis an accomplished writer, who combines nuance and atmosphere extremely well, but she thinks and thus writes fast, and I had trouble keeping up with who, where why and what of the action. Not because she misses out details, but due to the fact her character’s experience deep introspection, physical reactions and internal reasoning which is all combined with the actual events, so I am left feeling a film is playing on fast forward and I’m not keeping up!

On top of all this are detailed descriptions of the ancient baths of the city, the hierarchy of the local officials who misuse their power against the helpless, plus the fascinating details of cloth weaving which help Alyson determine the dead man’s origins and profession from his clothes. 

Alyson Weaver is a wonderful heroine, older than most, she retains a sharp wit, a justified contempt for men in general, though she also retains a sensual core able to admire a manly figure. She's done and seen just about everything, and uses her experiences to full effect.

Judging by the title, I get the impression Alyson will be the subject of a future novel as not all the mysteries were solved in ‘An Older Evil,’ which I felt was an enjoyable - if breathless – read.

No comments: