Swords in the East (Sir Robert Carey Mysteries Omnibus)

Written by P. F. Chisholm
Review by Martin Bourne

This is a compendium edition of two previously published books, part of a series on Robert Carey, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth I and a lawman on the English/Scottish border in the period prior to the uniting of the two kingdoms.  The series is based on his memoirs.  Most of the characters and situations are real.  The fictional ones are representative of the local culture of the “reivers,” thieves who flourished in the chaos on the border.

The first book, A Chorus of Innocents, is based on a rather throwaway comment made by Carey at the start of his journal, so there is far more fictional “filling in,” and it shows.  The main protagonist is the love of Carey’s life, Lady Widdrington, and it’s essentially a murder mystery.  Like many such tales set in a time when forensics were unknown, it is very dependent on deep insights into character to provide a solution, and the book struggles to do that.

The second book, A Clash of Spheres, is a more substantial tale of political intrigue where Carey is trying to foil a plot to murder King James.  It’s not a bad tale, although curiously the secondary storylines, involving sexual indiscretions and the murderous consequences of reiver blood feuds, are actually rather more interesting.

The period feel in the Carey books is excellent. You really get a good flavour of what life at the time was like.  However, this emphasis also hides the fact that these are thin stories, particularly the first one.