The stage of this atmosphere-drenched series opener is dominated by the city of London: a fetid, 14th-century melting pot brimming with all manner of life, high and low. Throughout Harding's supremely evocative, scrupulously researched portrait, the stench of the huddled masses is practically palpable. But there's more foul here than the city's streets: Sir Thomas Springall, a nobleman of the court, has been poisoned, and the servant who bore the fatal cup has apparently committed suicide. Enter Sir John Cranston, the London coroner who makes Jack Falstaff look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and whose appetite for drink is reflected in his ample girth. Together with his clerk, Brother Athelstan, a canny priest with a ``nose for mischief,'' Cranston ferrets out a fiendish plot that reverberates with intrigue in high places. Minor flaws--the titular architectural feature has scant significance, and Athelstan's character lacks focus--barely detract from this vivid, intricately crafted whodunit. And the book is full of colorful characters such as Watkin the dung collector, Ranulf the ratcatcher and a constable at Tower Bridge who lovingly combs the hair of executed traitors and sings them lullabies. (May)
Bursting with energy and drama, this 14th-century historical drama introduces an unlikely pair of sleuths: Brother Athelstan, friar at a poverty-stricken London church, and coroner Sir John Cranston. Their inquiry into the poisoning death of a powerful merchant takes them to mansion and hovel alike, facing deceptive nobles, crafty priests, and assorted felons. The pair's intelligence and wit call to mind Ellis Peters's more subdued Brother Cadfael, but they live in a rowdy city environment more reminiscent of Edward Marston. Great escape from the author, under the name P.C. Doherty, of The Whyte Harte ( LJ 1/89).