A Draught for a Dead Man

Written by Caroline Roe
Review by Kelly Cannon

Caroline Roe sets her medieval mystery in a locale other than England and makes its main character unique in both ethnicity and disability. A medieval scholar, she delivers rich and impeccably authentic historical detail. However, there is little beyond a fresh setting, an unconventional detective, and good history to recommend this first hardcover in the Chronicles of Isaac of Girona.

Isaac, a blind Jewish physician in thirteenth-century Spain, is called upon by a colleague to treat a very unusual patient – a man whose identity must remain unspoken, but whose garments mark him as a noble. Who tried to beat the man to death, and why? And why must the very name of Isaac’s patient remain unknown?

The mystery itself is awkwardly crafted, with the culprits pinpointed early on. Some characters could be fascinating, yet they’re never brought into clear focus. Even Isaac himself, who is sharper without his vision than most of us are with it, never quite comes to life. Ms. Roe’s prose is colorless for the most part and is peppered with statements of the obvious.