The Elixir of Death

Written by Bernard Knight
Review by Nancy Henshaw


AD 1195. ‘Crowner John’ – otherwise the splendidly-named Sir John de Wolfe, black-haired and frequently bad tempered – is confronted by an abandoned ship and the bodies of its master and crew: all murdered, but the former is his old friend, Thorgils. John has an implacably hostile wife, Matilda, and an independent-minded mistress, red-haired Nesta. Thorgils’ lovely wife Hilda was John’s childhood sweetheart. Now she will be a desirable widow, complicating the coroner’s stressful life as he proceeds with the investigation of seemingly unconnected, increasingly blasphemous and gruesome killings. The Crowner and his team are condemned to interminable journeys across Devon in foul weather, alchemy, treason, phantoms, mysterious monks and the irksome presence of his odious brother-in-law, Richard de Revelle. The coroner must look back to the disastrous Crusade of fifty years ago before he can establish the connection linking these sadistic crimes and frustrate the threat of worse horrors.

John is described as insensitive. Female readers may not agree, although shrewish Matilda undoubtedly would. Lusty, outspoken and incorruptible, as a born leader he has patience to spare for anyone who deserves it.

A first-time reader will have no problem picking up the previous histories of the Crowner, his women, his friends and enemies. Energetic narrative, excellent pacing and a solidly convincing background combine to complete the pleasures of reading The Elixir of Death.