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

Overview

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.

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060525354
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
12/23/2003
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Canterbury Papers
A Novel of Suspense

Chapter One

The Courier

Lady Eleanor was my stepmother, and the dearest friend of my childhood. To everyone else she was Queen Eleanor of England, or the Duchess of Aquitaine, or "Your Highness." To me she was simply the Lady Eleanor.

Our long and complicated history had many bends in the road, and our early intimacy had long since disappeared from view. Even so, it was hard to imagine that she meant me bodily harm. But there was no doubt in my mind that my current situation could be traced directly to the letter Queen Eleanor had sent to my brother's Paris court not a fortnight earlier.

Philippe and I were closeted together when her letter arrived. We were in his private chambers in our drafty palace on the Île de la Cité, perched on the edge of the wind-whipped Seine, when the courier found us. We were alone, without guards or servants, as was usual when he wished to badger me about some inadequacy of my performance as princess royal.

"Alaïs," I recall him saying, "I have hesitated to speak to you about this, but your behavior is becoming more and more a daily topic of discussion for the court."

With hands clasped behind his back, he paced away from me as he talked, so that his words at the end became muffled as if flung against the wind. I sighed.

The chamber suited Philippe. His passion was war, always had been. The tapestries that lined the high stone walls and provided some measure of warmth were laced with hunting scenes -- men with spears, boars in flight, hounds leaping. Hunting is, after all, a form of war; at least I would think so if I were an animal. The doors that guarded the privacy of the chamber were of oak and carved with scenes from the ancient battle of Troy. Encircling the hearth was another remarkable piece of oak carved by highly skilled artisans. They had used their art to design miniature weapons -- bows, arrows, knives, swords -- all intertwined like a chain of malicious grapes winding around the gentle hearth fire.

"Well, what do you have to say, sister?" He turned unexpectedly and headed back in my direction. I forced my attention to the issue.

"I cannot understand, brother, why the court should gossip about me in this way. Unless it is that your courtiers are envious of my serenity in the midst of the tremendous chaos that reigns over this impending wedding."

"They say not that you are serene." Philippe's toe stubbed on a corner of one of the Smyrna carpets of which he was so proud. He cursed softly as he caught himself. At such vulnerable moments, he was not the king of France to me. I saw him only as my younger brother.

"The reports are the reverse, that your feeling about this wedding runs high. The charge is that you refuse to take part in the preparations, or even give advice when it is sought, but instead become angry when Agnès or her ladies try to involve you in their plans." He began to rub his brow, always a sign that his headaches were returning, then covered the gesture by running his fingers through his dark, cropped hair. "Alaïs, this is becoming an issue between Agnès and my royal self. She feels you are not supportive of this coming wedding between our son and the house of the Plantagenet."

I held back yet another sigh. Philippe felt caught; I could see it in his face. I knew he did not want to have this conversation with me, that Agnès had forced it on him. We cared for each other, and he mostly left me alone to brood in my own way or withdraw if it suited me. For all his faults, he was my brother. I sometimes saw in his face the broader outlines of my own as it played back to me from the metal mirror he himself had brought me from the south. We had different mothers, but the lines and shapes of our faces, long and thin, were of the father we shared, and we had the same slightly almond-shaped eyes, those eyes of the Capet house of France. His were dark, while I had been told mine were as green as the eyes of my black cat.

"Philippe, try to understand my position." I shifted on the cushions to lean forward and made a gesture of appeal with my good hand. "I don't like weddings. I don't want any part of them. I am delighted that you have arranged this marriage between little Louis and Eleanor's granddaughter." I smiled but then spoiled it by muttering, "Although why Eleanor of Castile would want to send the child Blanche from sunny Spain north to the damp fog of Paris is beyond me."

Philippe stopped in front of the small couch on which I had draped myself. "That is exactly the kind of comment that -- "

"-- that gets me in trouble in this court of yours," I finished for him. It was so easy to finish his remarks, because, on some subjects, they were so predictable.

"It's your court as well, Alaïs," he said, sounding wounded.

"No, it 's not, Philippe. Let's not—at least between us when we are alone -- keep up that fiction. I am here at your sufferance. I was sent back here like an unwanted package when my betrothal to Richard ended and Queen Eleanor found me an embarrassment. You are kind, but I am of an age where I should have my own home and county, and a husband of my own. I don't, and so I find myself your guest." I tried to speak in a matter-of-fact manner but found my voice oddly giving way to some kind of shakiness as I finished. So I stopped talking until I had more possession of myself.

The Canterbury Papers
A Novel of Suspense
. Copyright © by Judith Healey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Judith Koll Healey indulges her hobby, medieval history, when she is not working as a consultant to family foundation boards in solving planning and dynamics problems. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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