The Colour of Bone (Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery)

Written by Toni Mount
Review by Fiona Alison

In 1480 London, Master Sebastian (Seb) Foxley―stationer, sign painter, illuminator, portraitist and printer―spends his spare time in St. Paul’s Charnel House studying the structure of the human skeleton, in hopes this will advance his technique in portraiture. But the knowledge also comes in handy when the body of a novice nun of St. Helen’s Priory is found inside the priory founder’s tomb, bloody scratch marks on the underside of the stone lid, and a torn scrap of material bearing a royal insignia inside. City bailiff Thaddeus Turner seeks Seb’s advice and expertise, the evidence leading them to Crosby Place, where Seb senses something is seriously amiss. The opulence and gilded splendour of the Duke of Gloucester’s palace cannot outweigh his willingness to get back to the soggy, smelly streets of London, where a man can at least anticipate a reasonable structure to his daily life.

In her 11th Foxley mystery, Mount evokes a lively interest in Seb, his family, his workshop, and the times in which he lives. Fifteenth-century Cheapside and Bishopsgate are expertly portrayed, making this a captivating read. The murder mystery weaves around multiple events in Seb’s life: a fire in his next-door property, his cousin Adam’s family dilemma, his fractious relationship with his brother, numerous financial woes, and an unwarranted writ of summons. The ensuing fortnight brings many complex problems requiring increasing demands on Seb’s time, but, ever the loyal husband, father, cousin, employer, and friend, he always puts family first. Mount’s novel is easily read independently, so one might see no reason to venture into earlier episodes, except that this is so compelling it bears better acquaintanceship with the peripheral characters. Using mostly fictional characters, Mount employs a healthy mix of historical ones in historic locations, and the descriptions of food are positively mouth-watering. Dialogue is era-appropriate, and I was eagerly engaged throughout.