Canterbury Papers: A Novel of Suspense

Canterbury Papers: A Novel of Suspense

by Judith Koll Healey

Set in lavishly described medieval England and France, The Canterbury Papers is an enthralling and suspenseful debut novel combining dark family secrets, duplicity, and a missing heir to the throne.

The wily Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of France and then of England, sends her former ward, Alaïs, the sister of the king of France, to retrieve a cache of

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Set in lavishly described medieval England and France, The Canterbury Papers is an enthralling and suspenseful debut novel combining dark family secrets, duplicity, and a missing heir to the throne.

The wily Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of France and then of England, sends her former ward, Alaïs, the sister of the king of France, to retrieve a cache of letters hidden in Canterbury Cathedral. Letters that, in the wrong hands, could bring down the English king. In return, Eleanor promises to reveal a long-held and dangerous secret involving Alaïs — a bargain the French princess is powerless to resist.

Within the fortnight the letters would be delivered to Fontrevault Abbey. Then Eleanor would be happy, and I would finally get the information she had promised.

So engaged was I in the arduous task of rising that I failed to hear the slight sound behind me that would have signaled my fate. Instead I was taken completely by surprise. The only thing I felt was a strong hand around my neck, another around my waist, and — before I could cry out — I smelled the thick, sweet scent of a mandrake-soaked cloth. Unforgiving hands clapped it against my face, and all went dark.

Before Alaïs can complete her mission, she is abducted, an event that sets in motion a dangerous plot. It will require all of Alaïs's considerable strengths, along with help from the very intriguing leader of the Knights Templar, to unravel dark secrets, unmask evil villains, and escape with her life.

A vividly rendered, spine-tingling historical novel filled with intrigue and peopled with compelling legendary figures, The Canterbury Papers is an extraordinary tale from a brilliant new writer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This engaging medieval suspense debut is alternately playful and sober in its exploration of the power maneuvers and backstabbing of the royal families of England and France. The story, set in the early 1200s, is narrated by Princess Ala s Capet, a bored and somewhat bitter member of the French nobility, long passed over for both matrimony and higher status. Ala s is approached by Queen Eleanor, who asks her to retrieve a secret and highly personal cache of letters hidden in England's Canterbury Cathedral. Eleanor won't explain the importance of the letters, but in return for salvaging them, she promises to divulge family secrets that Ala s could use to her advantage. Ala s, frustrated by the slow and tiresome life at the French court, agrees to run the errand, but when she reaches Canterbury, she finds not only the letters missing but a trail of dead bodies in her wake. Just as she is about to depart for home, she's abducted and taken prisoner by King John, an inept and insecure leader who views Ala s as an important pawn in his attempts to strengthen his tenuous grip on the throne. Healey's well-researched historical drama many of the characters and circumstances are based on real-life models delights in poking fun at the stuffiness and misbehavior that characterized the royal families of the time. The pace may be a little too leisurely for some readers, but Ala s's tart, wry perspective makes this age-old story fresh and absorbing. (Dec. 23) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Although you might not realize it from reading recent historical fiction set in the Middle Ages (e.g., Sharon Penman's Time and Chance, Pamela Kaufman's The Book of Eleanor), other women lived in the 12th century besides Eleanor of Aquitaine. In this well-plotted debut, Princess Alais Capet is the heroine-and a delightful one at that. Brave, outspoken, and passionate, Alais was a real historical figure, sister to the king of France and also, somewhat shockingly, mistress to Henry II (her stepfather) while Eleanor was locked up in the tower at Sarum. Set years later, the novel opens with the aging Eleanor calling upon Alais to fetch important papers hidden in Canterbury Cathedral. Along the way, the princess encounters Benedictine scholars, the Knights Templar, and a hostile King John. There are details aplenty of medieval life and lore, but the pace moves at breakneck speed as Alais travels from France to England and back again on the trail of what becomes an evermore complex mystery involving the crown of England. This will appeal both to fans of historical fiction and medieval/Renaissance mystery series by such authors as Fiona Buckley, Karen Harper, Kate Sedley, and Peter Tremayne. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Wendy Bethel, Southwest P.L., Grove City, OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A dangerous mission and a reluctant princess. Hoping to retrieve the letters she once wrote to Thomas Becket, the murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, Eleanor of Aquitaine sends Princess Alais of France to England. The letters were hidden within the altar of the cathedral-but how did they get there? That proves to be a very complicated story, involving the intertwined histories of the French and English royal families and a lot of skulking about in stone corridors. The mysterious Knights Templar have something to do with it as well and clank around making mischief-including, at one point, kidnapping the princess. Though newcomer Healey, whose passion, we're told, is medieval history, does her best to simplify matters, the endless exposition, much of it embedded in dialogue, can be rather confusing. Suffice it to say that Princess Alais has some experience at keeping secrets, having given birth years ago to a bastard child whose fate she never learned. Eleanor of Aquitaine hints that she has knowledge of this-the unfortunate event ended Alais's betrothal to Richard the Lionhearted, and the princess, perforce, returned to France. And Eleanor, not the most tenderhearted of queens, prevails. The princess begins her journey, aided by loyal retainers she remembers from her years at the court of King Henry of England, Eleanor's second husband. There's more skulking about, followed by a torrent of explanations from assorted characters on medieval history, art, religious belief, society, and politics. The letters? Not where she was told to look . . . . The heroine, who obviously would have been a devout Catholic, seems never to have been in a church before and notes with some astonishment thatimages from "the Christian belief system" decorate the columns of Canterbury Cathedral. To the story's detriment, other pedantic asides proliferate. Intriguing premise, stifled by a scholarly obsessiveness. Agent: Marly Rusoff

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.17(d)

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