A Personal Devil

Written by Roberta Gellis
Review by John R. Vallely

One may pause and ponder when confronted with a novel that features a prostitute as the heroine, particularly one who is also a madam! Any writer who takes on the challenge of making the reader identify with a whore who runs a whorehouse deserves a special niche in the hall of fame (infamy?) of writers who are not afraid of taking chances.

Magdalene la Batarde “manages” the Old Priory Guesthouse in the London of the time of King Stephen. When one of her prostitutes, the blind Sabina, is implicated in the murder of the thoroughly vile and wretched Bertrild, Magdalene enlists the aid of the stalwart Sir Bellamy of Itchen. Bellamy takes on the task of saving Magdalene from any possible harm connected with the investigation and, in so doing, hopes to convince her to leave her life as a prostitute and settle down with him. The list of possible suspects is a long one. Indeed, Bertrild is such an evil individual that no one really grieves her violent end! The plot is rich and tightly crafted. The players all are blessed with enough personality to stand in for the central characters. The London of early spring, 1139 is outlined in marvelous detail. And, last but not least, the author has indeed managed the incredible task of making readers cast their lots with a madam. An enlightening and entertaining experience.