The Poisoned Chalice (The Crowner John Mysteries Book 2)

Written by Bernard Knight
Review by Kelly Urgan

In 1194 off the coast of Devonshire, a shipwreck and three dead sailors drag Sir John de Wolfe, the county coroner, out of Exeter Castle. When he returns to town, he learns the portreeve’s daughter, Christina Rifford, has been raped. De Wolfe must discover the culprit before the woman’s outraged fiancé, Edgar Topsham, takes his own revenge, while also looking for clues about the shipwreck. Not long into his investigations, Sir John is called to view a noblewoman’s corpse hidden under a pile of rubbish. Suspicion in both of the women’s cases lands on the town’s best silversmith, Godfrey Fitzosbern, and his two apprentices.  Sir John searches for evidence against these men, putting him at odds with Sheriff Richard de Revelle, his brother-in-law, who is happy to torture first and get evidence later. However, Sheriff Richard becomes preoccupied with the upcoming visit of Chief Justiciar, Hubert Walter, the man effectively running England, giving Sir John the chance to seek justice for the shipwrecked sailors, Christina and the noblewoman. However, another brutal attack throws the town into chaos, and Sir John races against the tide to find the culprits he believes are behind the crimes.

The Poisoned Chalice drew me in with the mysterious shipwreck, the variety of characters, and the well-evoked sense of life in a medieval small town. However, the events and characters reflect somewhat outdated ideologies: the rape and murder of two women are major plot points, and characters are described by their disabilities. Though Sir John is a hero who sticks to his principles, he is unable to solve the crimes on his own, and readers are left with an underwhelming conclusion.