In the Presence of Evil

Written by Tania Bayard
Review by Sue Asher

Christine de Pizan is the latest historical figure to be tapped to serve as a crime solver in a mystery series. This 14th-15th century Italian lady of letters lived in France and wrote for the court of King Charles VI. The intermittent madness of the king and resulting instability of the kingdom form the basis of the plot.

A mysterious, evil book of magic has been brought to court, ostensibly to cure the king, but the courier is murdered and the book stolen. Misfortunes in the king’s circle increase, and it seems no one is safe. When one of the queen’s ladies is arrested for poisoning her husband, Christine sets out to prove her innocence and is drawn more deeply into the mystery surrounding the book. Christine’s friends, a monk and a prostitute, are sympathetic characters who do much of the heavy lifting of solving the mystery. However, it is Christine’s determination to do the right thing that helps bring about the conclusion.

The various elements making up the plot are rather scattered, so although the different conflicts are resolved in the end, the connections seem cobbled together. For a murder mystery, the pace is fairly slow, but this may be because I was not particularly drawn in by Christine. I had higher expectations for the fictional character development of this brilliant historical woman. But this is the first book in a series, and her sleuthing skills may develop more in subsequent stories.