The Ravens of Blackwater (Domesday)

Written by Edward Marston
Review by Jan Middleton

Marston is a prolific author, and confident in his art. Here’s a brisk murder-mystery set in the aftermath of the Conquest, following the quest of a Norman soldier and half Breton, half Saxon lawyer to establish the facts behind grievances levelled at the local Norman landowners, the FitzCorbucion family in the town of Maldon. The Conqueror himself has ordered the investigation following irregularities revealed in the great Domesday Book.  There’s a wonderful sense of place and atmosphere in a variety of settings: the palpable fear of an innocent man hiding in the remote salt creeks of the Essex marshes; the febrile passions smouldering behind the walls of a nunnery and the tense family relationships at Blackwater Hall. The shocking murder of the eldest son, Guy, is a catalyst for revenge, with the Conqueror’s commissioners, Ralph Delchard and Gervase Bret, caught up in trying to protect the innocent and prove the perfidies of the FitzCorbucions. Add to the mix a pair of star-crossed of lovers and an ancient Saxon still haunted by the Battle of Maldon a hundred years previously, and you have a heady mix!

The truth will out, of course, but not before a most enjoyably intriguing plot is worked through. Marston never falters in his narrative, swinging us back to a time when the Tower of London was new marvel and the Saxons were learning to live under the rule of the invaders. The period detail is handled with a deft touch, so if you love a good historical whodunnit, and like the prospect of a whole series, you’re in for a treat.