Editor’s Pick May UK/July US: A CHOIR OF CROWS by Candace Robb

A CHOIR OF CROWS is the twelfth intricately plotted historical mystery to feature detective protagonist Owen Archer, set in late 14th century York. 

The action begins in the freezing December of 1374, with the great and the good about to descend on York for the enthronement of Alexander Neville as the new archbishop.  When two bodies are discovered in the grounds of York Minster, and a flaxen-haired youth with the voice of an angel is found locked in the chapter house, Owen Archer, captain of the city bailiffs, is summoned to investigate.

Matters are further complicated with the arrival of an enigmatic figure from Owen’s past. Then a third body is fished out of the river – and Owen finds himself with three mysterious deaths to solve before the all-powerful Neville family arrives in York.

As well as being a gripping murder mystery which kept me guessing to the end, A CHOIR OF CROWS offers fascinating insights into day-to-day life during a particularly turbulent time in York’s richly colourful history, as the obscenely powerful aristocratic Percy and Neville families battled for advancement, and almost everyone in the city seemed to be a spy for one faction or another – with Owen Archer and his family caught slap-bang in the middle of the lethal power games being played out.  This was a dangerous, plague-ridden world, where life was often harsh, brutish – and cut unexpectedly short. A world dominated by the all-powerful Church and its attendant politics. (I  particularly liked the vivid evocation of a bustling, thriving York Minster in its medieval heyday, which forms the backdrop to so much of the action).

The author handles a large cast of characters with an admirable deftness and sureness of touch, and the satisfyingly complex plot, which demands close attention from its reader, provides rich rewards to those who read the novel with the attention it deserves. As always with Candace Robb’s mysteries, real historical figures mingle seamlessly with fictitious as weighty matters of state intrude upon the lives of Owen, his family and friends.  This was a time when the Hundred Years War against the French was raging, and England’s great hope, King Edward III’s warrior son known as the Black Prince, was struck down by a mysterious and (as it turned out) fatal illness.  As part of the central mystery plot, Robb offers an intriguing (and to me entirely plausible) theory as to the cause of this disease.

I would wholeheartedly recommend A CHOIR OF CROWS to readers of C J Sansom, Ellis Peters, Susanna Gregory and Paul Doherty.

A CHOIR OF CROWS is out 31 May in the UK and 2 July in the US, with the eBook available everywhere from 1 July. And if you can’t get enough of Owen Archer, check out the last title in the series, A CONSPIRACY OF WOLVES, here: UK readers/US readers

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