Traitor’s Codex (A Crispin Guest Mystery)

Written by Jeri Westerson
Review by Martha Hoffman

Crispin Guest, former baron of Sheen, has come down in the world after falling out with King Richard II. Now living in a workingman’s part of London and earning his keep as a tracker – a version of medieval detective – he has settled into a kind of family life, sharing a humble home with his former apprentice, Jack, and Jack’s wife and children. He also keeps an eye from a distance on his own son, who is being raised by the love of his life and her apparently unsuspecting husband.

One day, a man bestows on Crispin a mysterious book in an unknown language and urges him to do the right thing with it. Entirely unsure what that might be, he sets off to investigate. A trio of crypto-Jews help him decipher the text – which turns out to be an alternative Gospel – and all end up dead. Who wants the book, and why are they willing to kill for it?

Side tangents abound, including a doppelganger trading on Crispin’s reputation and the famous anchorite Julian of Norwich, trotted out to say her most famous line. Crispin also is drawn back to court, where he investigates the queen’s death as a possible murder. While that matter is wrapped up quickly, it puts him back in contact with his old mentor, John of Gaunt, and the grief-stricken king, who gives him hope that there might still be a place for him in the royal graces.

This book is part of a series and suffers a bit from excessive references to past storylines. Despite deaths and violence and deep themes, the mystery lacks urgency. The author is more interested in her main character and his relationships. Readers of the series may well be fine with that, so if the time and place intrigue you, perhaps start from the start.