The Christmas Wassail
This is The latest in Kate Sedley’s string of Roger the Chapman mysteries, set in 15th-century England and featuring a shrewd peddler, who travels the country poking his nose into situations, and does interesting errands for the Duke of Gloucester who is now Richard the Third.
Like many sequels, the book opens with a long rehearsal of Roger’s domestic arrangements, but soon a troop of mummers arrives, to entertain the Christmas throngs, and in among the wassails and the church services, dead bodies start popping up, and thereafter the book is a lot of fun.
Sedley has a tendency to digress on all manner of subjects, from the waterworks of Carmelites to Stonehenge, but the way she weaves her plot through the details of the twelve days of Christmas makes town and family life very vivid and immediate. The excitement of the holiday and its attendant rituals keeps up a note of revelry even as the gruesome murders continue. Sedley uses her historical detail to great effect in the mystery itself, resonant with the whole Hundred Years War. Her characters are sharply drawn, her settings colorful. Devotees of medieval murder mysteries will enjoy this one.