The Knight’s Tale (A Geoffrey Chaucer mystery, 1)

Written by M.J. Trow
Review by Kristen McDermott

Trow has written several historical mystery series, including one featuring the playwright Christopher Marlowe, so turning his attention to another English literary luminary, Geoffrey Chaucer, is a natural next step. Like other historicals that star Chaucer (Bruce Holsinger’s A Burnable Book, Michael B. Herzog’s This Passing World), this well-paced initial volume reads a bit like Canterbury Tales fan fiction, and the narrative style is cozy Edwardian armchair-detective rather than attempting to be actually medieval. However, Trow is an experienced craftsman, and his careful research creates a plausible historical analogue for the knight and squire who are the first-named fictional pilgrims in Chaucer’s famous anthology.

This novel begins, as do the Tales, on a cheerful April day, but the circumstances are more somber—Lionel, Duke of Clarence has just died under mysterious circumstances, and his trusted retainer, the titular Knight, Sir Richard Glanville, seeks Chaucer’s help in investigating the death, which shifts the setting to bucolic Clare Castle in Suffolk. Trow’s Chaucer is not a natural sleuth, but his open-mindedness and curiosity give him access to a wide variety of suspects; his innate empathy will inspire affection in all but the most pedantic of readers.

The omniscient point of view means that readers must shift their attention among many characters, which can be confusing, but Trow’s humorous tone and homely details of medieval life keep the reader entertained. His depiction of medieval biblical plays and folk festivals is particularly lively, all of which excuse the modern diction of his characters. Female characters, though important to the plot, are depicted in a tiresomely paternalistic way, and there are rather too many (historically accurate but insensitive) jokes about sexually predatory clergy, but one can chalk that up to the overall irreverent tone. It will be entertaining to see what kind of historical situations he comes up with for each of the Canterbury pilgrims.