The Demon’s Parchment
London, 1384. Crispin Guest, aka “The Tracker,” returns in the third of Jeri Westerson’s medieval noir mysteries.
The story opens with Crispin being hired to recover sacred parchments that have been stolen from the queen’s physician, Master Jacob. But the gig is not as straightforward as it seems, as the physician is a Jewish physician, invited by King Richard to treat his queen’s infertility and housed in the king‘s apartments in the Tower of London. This, in spite of the expulsion of Jews from England.
Finding the parchments takes on new urgency when Master Jacob reveals that they may hold the key to the deaths of several of London’s poor boys – deaths that Crispin is already investigating. But Crispin is not the only one hunting for the parchments; he is stalked by another with motives of his own. The layers of intrigue multiply.
Though there are some truly funny scenes, especially those with Crispin’s gay transvestite friend, John Rykener, and some tender moments, the book fully merits its noir designation. Westerson paints stark scenes of medieval poverty and the helplessness of the poor at the hands of the rich. Darker still is Crispin’s pursuit of the serial killer, one who does not just kill but who sodomizes the boys and guts them while still alive. The pursuit’s end is harrowing, surreal, and sobering.
All told, The Demon’s Parchment is a very good historical mystery. It is multilayered and historically accurate. The story also moves at an excellent pace, with lots of action, suspense, and great dialogue. In an afterword the author describes the actual sorry events around which she built her story. If noir is your genre, this is a book to reach for.