Veil of Lies
Poor Crispin Guest! In Jeri Westerson’s debut novel, set in 14th-century London and described as “a medieval noir,” Crispin is slapped, backhanded, tied up and tossed in the Thames to drown, arrested, and slapped again. The good news is Crispin is one of the most engaging characters I’ve come across in a long time. A wealthy knight imprisoned for treason against Richard II, stripped of his title and possessions but spared with his life, Crispin now inhabits the gritty backstreets of London and abhors every minute of it. To survive, he has set himself up as “The Tracker,” solving crimes for sixpence a day and expenses. His latest investigation centers on his search for a missing relic which, in turn, leads to a series of murders involving “the Italians” and a beautiful young woman who is not quite what she seems.
Westerson’s depiction of medieval London is honest, and Crispin’s loathing of it real. For the most part heroic and steadfast, Crispin is also cynical and disillusioned, a man whose main focus is his hope that one day he will again live the comfortable life he once knew at court. This, naturally, wreaks havoc in his romance with the woman he loves but who falls well below his former social status.
To say Veil of Lies is a remarkable novel doesn’t do the book justice. Just when the plot seems set on a fixed course, the author deftly arranges another neat surprise and keeps the pages turning. The story is fresh, and engaging characters abound, with nary a medieval monk or nun in sight. How can you not like a fellow who asks himself, “What am I now? The Tracker. What the hell is that?” My only complaint is now I have to wait a year, probably, for the next title in the series.