The Awful Secret (The Crowner John Mysteries Book 4)

Written by Bernard Knight
Review by Bridget Walsh

Exeter, 1195. King Richard the Lionheart is away on crusade. The protagonist, John de Wolfe, is the King’s Coroner (Crowner) for Devon and is set to investigate the murder of a body washed up by the sea. This is the first mystery of the novel, and the second is Crowner’s meeting with a runaway Templar, a warrior priest, Sir Gilbert de Ridefort, who is being sought by the leaders of the Templars. Crowner John has to unravel the mysterious murder of the seaman, and also help Sir Gilbert, the former Templar who holds the ‘Awful Secret.’

The intended audience for this novel and the others in the series are readers who enjoy novels about the Middle Ages in England, when a Norman King ruled England and the Catholic Church was a powerful actor across all of Europe. This story has lots of historical detail about the lives of both the Norman elites and the English working people, subject to their Lords and masters. Life for ordinary men and women was extremely hard.  Unfortunately, women do not feature much in this story, other than the unhappy wife, Matilda, and Crowner John’s sexy, tavern-owning mistress. The main character, John de Wolfe, is a heroic ex-soldier. He is supported by his loyal friend and henchman, Gwyn.  The settings cover all of Devon and Cornwall and into the Bristol Channel and the island of Lundy. It was interesting to learn about Norman society. The glossary at the end of the novel is useful as it explains the language used in the novel, for example, the punishments meted out to law breakers; mutilation and ordeal.