In this prequel to the popular Crowner John series, readers get a glimpse into the back story of protagonist and medieval sleuth Sir John de Wolfe. In 1192, Sir John is one of the knights accompanying King Richard the Lionheart on the perilous journey back from the Holy Land. The voyage is long and fraught with danger; one by one the company dwindles until Richard himself is kidnapped by enemies. Back in England and feeling guilty about his inability to save his king, Sir John finds himself drawn into the political intrigue between the Lionheart’s friends and foes. When he discovers a member of Richard’s retinue murdered, Sir John becomes determined to find out who killed the man and why.
The Crowner books are historical whodunits, but this prequel is meant to be more of a historical adventure. The first third of the story follows Richard and his men on their travels; in the second Sir John catches up with his life in England; and in the final third we see him become the sleuth familiar to longtime readers. The book was written to address questions from fans about Sir John’s background and the history of the time period; this shows in the writing, which is jam-packed with exposition, but not to the point of being overdone. For first-time readers (like this reviewer), the action may seem a bit slow at first, but the characters grow on you so quickly that you want to read more of their adventures. Crowner’s Crusade is a treat for fans of the series and just might attract some new readers too. Recommended.