River of Sins
E-book, E-Book (USA), Paperback
July 1144. Ricolde, ‘the finest whore in Worcester’, is found butchered on an island a few miles up the River Severn. How did she get there, who killed her, and why? Uncovering details of her life and her past reveal a woman with hidden depths and hidden miseries which are fundamental to the answers, but time has cast a thick veil over the killer’s identity. The lord Sheriff’s men have a trail that went cold over two decades ago, and evidence that contradicts itself.
In a place Catchpoll knows inside out, he finds things new even to him, and then the case becomes personal
David Morley –
It is the summer of 1144. A few miles north of the City of Worcester the manor reeve of Bevere, Heribert, has been alerted by a young boy, who had brought his swine to the water's edge to drink, that there is something amiss on Bevere island in the river Severn. What he finds there is so shocking that it compels him to ride immediately to Worcester and seek out the lord sheriff, William de Beauchamp.
The lord sheriff is away from the castle on other matters but he is seen by the undersheriff, Lord Bradecote and his assistant Serjeant Catchpoll, who, having listened to his report, accompany the reeve back to Bevere Island where they discover a badly mutilated corpse. The corpse has been subject to what must have been a frenzied attack to such an extent that it is barely possible to tell whether it is a man or a woman and has been disfigured beyond recognition. Catchpoll, however, senses that he may have identified the victim.
Back in Worcester they are able to confirm that, as Catchpoll suspects, the victim is a woman who goes by the name of Ricolde. She is well known in the city, notorious even, as 'The Whore of Worcester'. In twelfth-century Worcester there were, no doubt, a great many women forced into prostitution simply to survive and they were widely reviled for the dangerous and precarious lives they led. But Ricolde, it seems was different. She was an astute businesswoman who knew her own worth and had built a prosperous, if outcast, life for herself by understanding, and providing for, the particular needs of her prosperous clients.
The initial investigations in the city of Worcester throw up a number of possible suspects but interrogation of these men produces no break-through in the case. It becomes clear that the immediate problem that Bradecote and Catchpoll, enthusiastically assisted by Catchpoll's apprentice Walkelin, have to solve is what is it that connects the relatively affluent 'Whore of Worcester' to the site of the murder and what it is about that connection that led to the intense violence of her killing.
It is the river Severn that lies at the heart of this story and Bradecote, Catchpoll and Walkelin have to travel its course between Worcester and Bevere Island to question everyone they can find in the hamlets and villages on its banks in order to unravel Ricolde's story and the events that led to her death. But just as they begin to feel that they are beginning to understand what lies behind her murder a second killing, of a poor street whore in Worcester, throws their theories into disarray.
A great many twists and turns lie in store for the reader of this pleasingly complex historical crime novel before the dogged and diligent inquiries of Bradecote and his men lead them to the identity of the murderer. We also see in this novel how, as they work together, the respect Bradecote, Catchpoll and Walkelin have for each other grows in spite of the rigid social constraints of the times they live in.
The author creates a real sense of what life was like in this period of history for people of all walks of life and positions in society, high or low. The characters are all well drawn and believable and display attitudes and behaviours that both reflect the harshness of the times and yet suggest that people were still capable of compassion and concern for their fellows.
This novel has clearly been written by someone with a deep knowledge and understanding of the period who is capable of using that knowledge to create a convincing impression of England at that time against which to present this very enjoyable medieval mystery. Highly recommended.
I would like to express my thanks to Net Galley and Allison and Busby for making a free download of this book available to me.