For my Mystery Monday meme today, I’ve read Susanna Gregory‘s Fifteenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew, A Vein of Deceit. One of the things I love best about Gregory‘s mysteries, besides the fact that they’re set in medieval times, is the very complex mysteries Brother Matthew, as Cambridge’s Corpse Examiner, and his friend and colleague, Brother Michael, Senior Proctor, are called upon to solve. There is never only one problem at a time for these two unlikely comrades — Matthew, who is extremely cautious and forward-thinking about health matters, and Michael, who eats voraciously, avoiding all vegetables, and hence, is extremely overweight — to solve, and working out the connections or dismissing them can often be a daunting task. I also love the Prologue where you don’t know who the corpse is (there usually is one in the prologue) but you know it’s going to connect up and you’re given hints along the way but there’s lots of suspense before the ‘wheres’ and ‘whyfors’ become known.
In A Vein of Deceit, we have a childhood friend of Edith, Matthew’s sister, dying in agony in Edith’s home. She’s suspected of taking pennyroyal to end her pregnancy, but according to Edith, Joan was delighted with her pregnancy and the opportunity to finally present her husband, lord of the manor, with an heir. The two women had spent all day in the market choosing ribbons for the baby. Edith maintains that either the pennyroyal had to be taken accidentally or Joan was murdered! When Matthew finds his own stock of pennyroyal is missing, he is aghast at the though it might have been his own herb responsible for Joan’s death. He begins his own investigation, starting with his three senior students who are the only ones trusted with access to his storeroom.
In addition to this first suspicious death, there is an unsavoury brother and sister team of thieves in town and the burgesses have tied (figuratively speaking) the hands of the senior proctor because they convicted Osa once before and he sued the town and won. The pair are angry and extremely intimidating, threatening scholars (including Matthew), and prowling around the various colleges when gates are left unattended. Things of value are disappearing.
Then, there’s the young scholar, Kelyng, who never returned from his holiday and, while many suspect he merely defaulted due to the large debt he had run up at Michaelhouse College, there are some who think he may have met with foul play.
When the Master of Michaelhouse is attacked, and his purse stolen, he confides in Matthew and Michael that he thinks their treasurer, Wynewyk, has been fiddling the books and they are out a vast amount of money. Wynewyk’s seeming suicide prevents them from confronting him and tends to confirm their suspicions. The answers to many, if not all of these mysteries, lie with Joan’s husband and his two neighbouring minor lords who are all involved in a new mining venture. (Hence, the pun in the book’s title.) Matthew and Michael face a web of prevarication, yet another murder, assassins, and betrayal before they unravel the truth of the matters.
Gregory’s mysteries are top notch, well-written, exciting, accurate to the time period, and they keeping you guessing right to the end. Easy to read in a day (because you can’t put them down), they are full of suspense and fascinating tidbits of knowledge. These books are a ‘comfort read’ for me, a break between longer and heavier (in matter, not mass) books, and I thoroughly enjoy them. Each one can be read as a standalone, or you can begin with the first book and proceed through chronologically. There are now 21 mysteries in this series. * * * * *