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The latest Crowner John medieval mystery, The Manor of Death, from Bernard Knight pushes the limits for many of its series characters and for Crowner John in particular. But you’ll have to read this tome to get the picture and wonder what might happen to Crowner John in the final of the series; as I believe from exchanges with the esteemed Professor Bernard Knight CBE (again a new web home), there is only one more novel to come after this story, making a total of 13 for the series – or can the dear Prof be persuaded to write yet another one, during his well deserved retirement…
In a nutshell: The Manor of Death opens with the ever-irascible Crowner John called to Axmouth where an unidentified body has been discovered. There, he finds a closed community and some local conflict between officials. The Keeper of the Peace had sent his clerk to notify of the discovery of the body, but on arrival, Crowner John is faced with Edward Northcote, "bailiff to the Prior of Loders, who holds this manor", who snaps at John "…If you are the coroner, then you have had a wasted journey. You were sent for without my knowledge or consent".
John is not a happy man. Bothered by a boil on his backside, and after a long ride, he is quick to assert himself, "If there is a dead body lying here, then I will be the judge of that…" John is always a man of keen instinct and it’s no different here. The body had been discovered by a priest seeking to bury his dead dog. The locals would prefer to send off Crowner John with the claim that it is a body washed ashore at the port and later buried secretly. Not so, the young man had been strangled. And so begins a difficult investigation for Crowner John and his team, as well as the start of some life-changing opportunities…
Crowner John’s marriage is more mired in impairment than usual as his wife Matilda is disappointed and shamed by her brother’s actions, as brought to light by her husband in the previous novel The Noble Outlaw. She can forgive neither. Crowner John continues his affair with Nesta at the inn, but is also tempted by an old love, Hilda, proving that a developing boil on the backside is no hindrance to sex-drive.
The opening murder is not the first murder and Crowner John needs to cut through the conspiracy that is apparent at Axmouth in order to seek justice for the deceased.
Bernard Knight has created a set of characters to love, and love even more in this novel. The sense of place and time is strongly evoked in the reader’s imagination, as is the need for justice for victims in isolated communities. The Manor of Death is not a pacey read, but something to savour and enjoy because of the stories of the characters and the loving attention to detail. Not so for the plot on the side of the murders, but definitely for the plot in respect of ongoing characters, their lives and ambitions, the ending is explosive and marks a key change for more than one character. This one is not to be missed.