The Day of the Serpent (A Brother Chandler Mystery, 2)

Written by Cassandra Clark
Review by Fiona Alison

Imprisoned in Pontefract Castle by the usurper, Henry Bolingbroke, Richard II starved to death. At least that’s the story that was put about in 1400 so the people would accept Henry’s big lie. Brother Chandler, reluctantly indentured to the House of Lancaster, is whisked north by the usurper king’s stepbrother, Thomas Swynford. Tasked with bringing Richard his meals in Pontefract’s tower, Chandler’s scenes with the young king are deeply moving; then, without warning, Richard is brutally murdered. As the entourage makes its way to London, three bodyguards are struck down by a skilled archer. Swynford, forever disgruntled at the lack of recognition by the king, orders Chandler to find the culprit without delay. Investigating loudly whilst prevaricating, Chandler discreetly protects those who might be responsible. Back in London, Chandler hopes to reunite with his love, Mattie, but receives a frosty reception. Times have changed since he went north. Self-styled archbishop Arundel is hardening the heresy laws in favour of burning, and even Chandler is not safe from Arundel’s wrath.

Our friar is an enigmatic, multifaceted and likeable man with a disarming friendliness, useful for a spy. Clark doesn’t dwell on his background, only revealing occasional tidbits. Mattie, a maid in Chaucer’s household, is the voice of the times (an interesting choice for this role which works perfectly), relating the toxic fear gripping the land, and her anxiety for Master Chaucer and his ‘heretical’ writings. There’s complexity and urgency in the multiple themes—

an anointed king’s murder, the dead guards, the mystery bowman, the revamped heresy laws, Mattie’s secret excursions, the heretical Book of the Lion—and the frequent inability to fathom which side Chandler is on. This is a compulsive, edgy read about dangerous times, when misinformation was the order of the day. Clark ties the multiple ends up neatly, with neither cliffhanger nor happily-ever-after. A terrific achievement in a series to watch closely.