Serpent in the Thorns: A Medieval Noir


This is the second entry in a series featuring medieval private detective Crispin Guest, the Tracker. Seven years before, Crispin had been entangled in a plot to overthrow the recently crowned Richard II, and his punishment was the loss of his knighthood, forcing him to live among London’s poor. Having descended several rungs on the social ladder, Guest sometimes has difficulty remembering that those he used to treat with aristocratic arrogance, like sheriffs, are now in a position to lord it over him.

Like most novels in the noir genre, it opens with a poor but principled private investigator receiving a visit from a woman in trouble over a corpse. Crispin goes about collecting ballistics, in this case arrow markings, and avoiding continual murderous attacks, described in lively action sequences. The mystery involves a sacred relic which may or may not be the original crown of thorns and which may or not may have special powers. The previous entry, Veil of Lies, involved the Mandillon, the cloth with the imprint of Christ’s face. A petulant and arbitrary Richard II features in both books, as does Crispin’s erstwhile patron, John of Gaunt.

Some well-fashioned descriptions of 14th-century clothing and a judicious sprinkling of archaic terms lend interest to the historical aspect of the books, which is stronger than their mystery plots. I would recommend reading Veil of Lies before starting this one.


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