Troubled Bones: A Medieval Noirby Jeri Westerson
"Westerson has mastered her subject and has used that knowledge to create erudite entertainment."
--Richmond Times Dispatch on Veil of Lies
Disgraced knight Crispin Guest gets himself into some serious trouble in London and as a result is forced to accept an assignment far out of town. The Archbishop of/b>/b>/b>/i>/i>/b>/i>
"Westerson has mastered her subject and has used that knowledge to create erudite entertainment."
--Richmond Times Dispatch on Veil of Lies
Disgraced knight Crispin Guest gets himself into some serious trouble in London and as a result is forced to accept an assignment far out of town. The Archbishop of Canterbury has specifically requested Guest to investigate a threat against the bones of saint and martyr Thomas a Beckett, which are on display in the cathedral in Canterbury. The archbishop has received letters threatening the safety of the artifacts, and he wants Guest to protect them and uncover whoever is after them.
When he arrives at Canterbury, Guest is accosted by an old acquaintance from court – one Geoffrey Chaucer – and is surrounded by a group in town on a pilgrimage. Trapped amongst the pilgrims (who were, quite possibly, the model for Chaucer's famous story cycle), looking for a murderer, a hidden heretic and a solution to the riddle that will allow him to go back home, Crispin Guest finds his considerable wit and intellect taxed to its very limit.
RT Book Reviews (Top Pick!)
"Westerson’s latest medieval noir is a very readable combination of historical fact and mystery."
"The Agatha Christie–like solution will please puzzle buffs."
A murderous spin on The Canterbury Tales.
Disgraced knight Crispin Guest has gained such a reputation as a tracker of criminals (The Demon's Parchment, 2010, etc.) that the Archbishop of Canterbury calls on him to investigate a threat against the bones of Saint Thomas Becket. The archbishop suspects a plot by the Lollards, whose attack on papal authority and church doctrines has the veiled approval of some of the highest in the land, including Guest's former lord, the Duke of Lancaster. Guest and his servant Jack are staying at an inn that also houses Geoffrey Chaucer, a friend of Guest from the days when Guest was still a favorite of Lancaster, and many of the characters who are due to be immortalized in his Canterbury Tales. When the prioress is murdered and Becket's bones go missing, Guest has his work cut out for him. A second murder only confuses his task. The archbishop wants the murders solved, the bones returned, and the Lollards rooted out. When Chaucer's dagger is used as a murder weapon, Guest has to look deep into the past and the death of Becket in order to save his old friend from the hangman's rope.
Westerson's latest medieval noir is a very readable combination of historical fact and mystery even though it telegraphs the killer's identity early on.
Read an Excerpt
A Crispin Guest Medieval Noir
By Jeri Westerson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Jeri Westerson
All rights reserved.
"Mordre wol out, that see we day by day."
— GEOFFREY CHAUCER, The Canterbury Tales, "THE NUN'S PRIEST'S TALE"
"WHY'D YOU HAVE TO take me along, Master Crispin?" complained Jack Tucker, gripping the horse's mane as his body jerked with the rouncey's gait. The boy looked up sorrowfully through a mesh of ginger fringe. "Shouldn't someone keep watch of our lodgings back in London? Shouldn't I have stayed behind?"
"Master Kemp can keep good watch of his own tinker shop, I should think," said Crispin. "And if you ever wish to follow in my footsteps, you must accompany me when I have a paid assignment. As you know, such assignments are few."
"I'd rather follow in your footsteps at that, Master, than ride this beast. If God had wanted Man to have four feet He'd have created Adam with them."
Crispin's left hand lazily held the reins. "Jack, you're fighting him. Roll with the gait. Become as one with him."
"Tell it to the horse."
Chuckling, Crispin raised his eyes to the road. The walls of Canterbury drew closer and rose above the distant copses. It wouldn't be long before they could finally get some food and a warm bed. Though he appreciated being on a horse once again, the constant drizzle had made their two-day journey from London less than comfortable.
"Why should the archbishop want you to do this thing, sir?" Jack asked.
Crispin gripped the reins. Tension flickered up the muscles in his arm. "The letter delivered to the sheriffs was frustratingly vague. All I know is that it seems to be a matter of Saint Thomas à Becket's bones."
Jack shook his head and whistled. "Saint Thomas the Martyr. It's like a pilgrimage. God blind me! I've never been on a pilgrimage before. And Thomas the Martyr at that. I should very much like to see his bones. They say that Saint Thomas defied a king. A little like you did, Master," he added sheepishly.
Crispin made a sound in his throat but said nothing. He couldn't help but feel a kinship for the martyr. Thomas à Becket had been his own man, to be sure, saint or no.
"But we did leave London rather hastily," Jack went on. "Why, sir, if you hate dealing with relics so much, were you in such a hurry to do this task?"
"I will be paid well for it. I've already received two shillings. Four days' wages isn't bad for work not yet done."
"True. But I've never seen you hurry for no one, let alone a cleric."
Crispin heaved a sigh. He could ignore the boy, tell him to be still and to mind his own business, but after only one short year of knowing the ginger-haired lad, he knew it was pointless. "The sheriffs gave me a choice," he said at last. "Follow the bidding of the archbishop or go to gaol."
Crispin adjusted on his saddle. "It seems I might have gotten into a scuffle at the Boar's Tusk."
"A man was bedeviling Mistress Langton! Should I have stood by while he insulted the tavernkeeper?"
"You were drunk."
Crispin shot him a dark glance. "Careful, Tucker."
"Well ... were you?"
He pulled his hood down, shivering with a cold wind. "I might have been. The crux of the matter is that the man was a courtier. And I, er, might have ... struck him."
"God blind me. Then it's a wonder they didn't just hang you."
They fell silent as they reached the city's gates and then wended their way through narrow lanes, some little wider than the horses' flanks. The late-afternoon light filtered down through the valleys of Canterbury's shops and houses. Their second and third tiers overhung the streets, cutting short the weak light angling through the spring mist.
They found an inn at the end of Mercy Lane, just a bowshot from Canterbury Cathedral, and Crispin left it to Jack to stable both horses and secure a room.
Standing alone at the base of the steps to the great arch of the cathedral's west door, Crispin brushed the mud from his coat. There was little he could do about the state of his stockings with their mud and holes, but surely the archbishop was aware of his situation. After all, he'd asked specifically for Crispin himself.
He climbed the steps and entered the vestibule. Cold stone surrounded him while the stained-glass windows cast rainbows on the floor. The nave opened before him, flanked on either side by a colonnade of impossibly tall stone pillars upholding ribbed vaults. A labyrinth of scaffolding clung to the nave's pillars with spidery fingers of poles and ropes. The church's reconstruction had been under way for years, yet didn't seem any closer to completion since Crispin had last visited nearly a decade ago. While masons worked, showering the nave with stone dust, artisans continued painting the stone runners, spandrels, and corbels in elaborate colors and stripes. The nave was alive in color and gold leaf. Every corner, every inch of every carved bit of stone smelled of new paint and varnish.
He walked across the stone floor, his boots echoing. When he turned at the quire, he made a nod toward the northwest transept archway into Saint Benet's chapel, a miniature church within the large cathedral.
The place where Becket was murdered.
He moved on past the quire on his right and then ascended another set of steps — the pilgrim's steps — to the Chapel of Saint Thomas, its own little parish of occupied tombs and tombs yet to be occupied. Always room for one more. He couldn't help but turn his glance to one tomb in particular. It was overhung with a canopy of carved wood covered in gold leaf. He paused and walked forward to study it.
A latten knight lay with hands raised in prayer over his chest. A crown encircled his helm. He did not lie with eyes closed but stared upward at some unseen paradise ... or possibly a battle, for to the silent knight, Paradise and Battle might very well have been one and the same.
For a long time, Crispin stood and stared at the tomb and at the polished figure of Prince Edward of Woodstock. He crossed himself, studied the face of the man he had known well, and finally turned from the sepulcher.
A drowsy shuffle of monks echoed somewhere in the church.
Crispin turned and stood for a moment, absorbing the sight of Becket's shrine in the center of the chapel. The chapel's stone pillars created a circle about Crispin and shone golden with the afternoon sun streaming in from the many windows. Raised up on stone steps, the shrine was taller than a man. A stone plinth supported the wooden base, itself resplendent with carved arcades and fine decoration, gold-leafed, painted. As fine as any throne. Set above it all was a finely wrought wooden canopy hiding the gold-and-jewel-encrusted casket in which Becket's remains lay. The canopy was a proud structure of carvings, gold leaf, and bells. Ropes were fastened from the canopy to the center boss on the ceiling. By pulleys and wheels, the canopy could be lifted to reveal the casket's magnificence — for the pilgrims who paid their fee.
Crispin frowned. His eyes searched the shadows. The shrine looked the same as it had probably looked for two centuries.
He turned to go when the sound of voices and scuffing feet stopped him. Pilgrims. Then monks appeared from the shadows and positioned themselves before the ropes and pulleys, ready to reveal Becket's casket. His heart fluttered. How many times had he seen this tomb himself? But he was just as affected as the first time when he was a boy. The archbishop could wait. He wanted a look at Becket's tomb. Just another pilgrim in the crowd.
Steps approached and the voices hushed. The pilgrims, here to see Becket's shrine, moved along the north ambulatory, gawking at the images of Saint Thomas's miracles depicted in the stained-glass windows. They were a varied flock, as Crispin expected. Travelers came from all over the kingdom to see Becket's bones. Some looked to be clerics from other parishes, a priest in rich robes, and two demure nuns in dark habits. A man of wealth was flanked by what appeared to be two tradesmen. A round-bodied woman in a fine gown and cloak stood in the center of the crowd, a look of concentration on her face as she stared at the tomb as if willing it to give up its secrets, while two men, one thin and the other stout, skulked behind the other pilgrims, whispering to each other.
The two monks who stood by the ropes stared suspiciously at Crispin before they set to work cranking the canopy away from the casket. Slowly, with the sound of the rope squealing over the pulley, and with bells tinkling, the canopy lifted higher and the first motes of light struck the casket's gold. The sun revealed it, brushing along its box of carved pillars.
Crispin stood off to the side, waiting in the shadows for the pilgrims to pass. The visitors murmured and were slowly ushered forward one at a time by two monks.
Out of the silence, a sharp voice rang out, incongruous in the silent presence of tombs and the ancient stone chair of Saint Austin standing in a shaft of sunlight. "Well, I'll be damned. Cris Guest!"
It couldn't be. That unmistakable voice. A sinking feeling seized his gut and Crispin slowly turned.
God's blood. Geoffrey Chaucer.CHAPTER 2
CHAUCER CLAPPED CRISPIN ON the shoulder and stood back. "Cris! By God! Let me look at you. I have not seen you in ... Holy Mother. How long has it been?"
"Eight or so years," he answered stiffly.
"You look very thin."
"Starvation will do that."
Chaucer gave an embarrassed laugh. "Indeed. Well."
Crispin eyed the monks, glaring in their direction. He took Chaucer's arm and directed him out of the chapel area.
"Must you speak so loudly?" Crispin muttered.
"You know me, Cris," said Chaucer, his voice just as loud. "It is my way."
"I remember." He tried to suppress his initial shock. He wasn't successful. He looked at Chaucer, now with a curly beard and mustache. He wore a red ankle-length gown trimmed in dark fur. His belt was dotted with silver studs and held a dagger with a bejeweled pommel. A familiar dagger. One Crispin had gifted to Chaucer too many years ago to count. "What brings you here, Geoffrey? Shouldn't Lancaster's poet be at court?" He released Geoffrey, though all he wanted to do was clap him in his arms.
"The duke's poet cannot go on a pilgrimage for the sake of his soul?" Chaucer talked in a nervous rush, too jocular, too carefree. "And what brings you here, Master Guest? I thought you'd sworn off pilgrimages."
Crispin forced himself back to the present. It had been many a year since he and Chaucer called themselves friends. He weighed how much to reveal. Slowly, he said, "I'm here on a task for the archbishop."
"I must find employment where I can."
If Chaucer was embarrassed, he no longer showed it. "Where are you staying? I am at the Martyrs Inn. I assume there will be ample opportunity to catch up with each other's news. It has been a long time, after all. We've gone our separate ways from those long ago days serving Lancaster, eh? And I ... well." He paused, his eyes alive and searching every crease and plane of Crispin's face. The rush of words finally hit a stopping point. First he eased back, looking at the long tips of his shoes. Then he edged forward again, raised his face, and said more quietly, "In truth, I would know how you have fared. I remember our days together fondly."
Crispin softened but didn't quite relax. "As do I."
The moment was broken when Chaucer gave a familiar smirk. He stepped back again to boldly appraise his friend. His hat flapped against his back, its long liripipe tail across his chest holding it in place. "Where do you stay? We will meet, will we not?"
"No doubt. I am at the Martyrs, too." His gut roiled with emotions he did his best to tamp down. "I ... I must go. Later, Geoffrey. Later."
Chaucer tried to speak but Crispin slipped away without looking back. He did not know exactly why he felt so uncomfortable seeing Chaucer again. He reckoned it was mostly because he always felt a certain amount of unease and embarrassment when encountering someone from his former days when he was still a knight and lord. And Chaucer had been one of his best friends; a friend whom Crispin had made certain to abandon.
He strode quickly through the church and out, feeling a sense of relief to walk in the sunshine and leave Chaucer behind. He headed toward the great hall where the archbishop's lodgings were situated and encountered a locked gate at the stair. He pulled the bell rope and soon a monk appeared.
"Benedicte," said the monk.
"I have come at the bidding of his Excellency the Archbishop. Tell him Crispin Guest is at the gate."
The monk looked less than inspired with this request, but he turned, trudged back up the stairs, and disappeared around the landing.
Crispin rubbed his chapped hands together and stomped his feet to ward off the chill. He'd met his Excellency William de Courtenay once years ago. How did the archbishop come to think of him for this assignment? It warmed a place in his chest to think that his fame as the Tracker had reached Canterbury, but he squashed the thought just as quickly. If Courtenay remembered him at all, it was as a protégé to John of Gaunt and consequently Courtenay's enemy.
He startled when the monk hurried back down the steps. The monk took a key from a ring at his cincture, unlocked the gate, and pulled it open. He seemed surprised to find himself saying, "His Excellency will see you immediately." He locked the gate again and Crispin followed him up the staircase, through a corner of the great hall, and to a large arched door. The monk knocked, listened a moment, then ushered him through.
Courtenay looked up from his reading with striking blue eyes set in a fleshy but earnest face. A classical nose found on many a Roman statue rose over well-carved lips and a prominent chin. He rose at his place behind a large table and ornate chair. Courtenay wore the long robes of his office. A red cap fit snugly on a head of curled brown hair.
The archbishop pushed the chair aside and strode around the table. He seemed to be a man in his full capacity, fully aware of his role and his position in society. He, like the martyred Becket, had once served as chancellor to a king, but resigned after serving King Richard only four months. Crispin had no reason to suspect that he left the king's services due to any lack of affection for the young king, but he did wonder.
He knelt, kissed Courtenay's ring quickly, and stepped back.
The cleric openly inspected him. Over the years, Crispin expected a certain amount of scrutiny, especially from those who were aware of his history, but knowing this never seemed to dull the sensation that he was a horse at market.
"Crispin Guest," said the archbishop in a clipped and patrician tone. Courtenay hooked his thumbs into his embroidered belt. "We've met before, you know."
"Yes, your Excellency. I thought we might have done."
"But those circumstances are best forgotten."
He agreed. "But if that is so, my lord, then why did you send for me in particular?"
Courtenay smiled. He gestured to a sideboard before he sat in a chair beside the fire. "Pour some wine, Master Guest."
He bowed and moved to the sideboard. He poured wine from a silver flagon into two silver goblets and took them to the fire, giving Courtenay one and keeping the other. Courtenay offered him a wooden chair beside him, and Crispin sat.
"You are well known in certain circles, Master Guest," said Courtenay. His jeweled ring glittered as he turned the goblet in his hand. "And your recent doings at court have made association with you less of a disadvantage than it might have been before."
Crispin raised a brow. Saving the king's life? He supposed that made him less of a pariah, though he was still not welcomed at court. No one forgot treason, he supposed.
"Indeed," Courtenay went on, "your skills investigating crimes make you highly desirable and quite the only one I wished to consider."
Crispin drank in silence.
Courtenay's eyes fixed on him. Suddenly, he offered, "I remember tales of Sir Henry Guest. He was a valorous knight and a devoted baron to the crown as well as servant of Lancaster and the old king."
Crispin straightened at Courtenay's unexpected words. He cleared his throat. "I do not recall much of my father," he said carefully. "He was often gone to war, where he died."
Excerpted from Troubled Bones by Jeri Westerson. Copyright © 2011 Jeri Westerson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
JERI WESTERSON is the author of three previous books featuring Crispin Guest – Veil of Lies,Serpent in the Thorns, and The Demon's Parchment. She lives in Menifee, California.
JERI WESTERSON is the author of books featuring Crispin Guest, including Veil of Lies, Serpent in the Thorns, The Demon's Parchment, Troubled Bones, and Blood Lance. She lives in Menifee, California.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I am a fan of the Crispin Guest series and was anxiously awaiting the release of Troubled Bones. The books just keep getting better and better. Crispin Guest is back with his side kick Jack Tucker, the little thief that Crispin takes under his wing in Veil of Lies. Crispin has been summoned to Canterbury by the Archbishop. He is told that there is a Lollard plot a foot to steal the bones of St. Thomas and the Archbishop wants to protect the bones and to also root out any Lollards in their community. But when murder comes to the great Cathedral, Crispin feels he has failed in his duty. But do the murders have anything to do with the bones? Or are the pilgrim's secrets the motive? Jeri Westerson has been a lifelong fan of Chaucer, and it is really very clever how she has worked the characters from the Canterbury tales into the story line. Crispin's friend Chaucer is soon in deep trouble and the vindictive Archbishop of Canterbury sees a way to strike out at his enemy the Duke of Lancaster through his friend and servant Geoffrey Chaucer. Crispin knows his friend could not have done this and is compelled to help; and in so doing more of his story is revealed, also his responsibility to a growing Jack becomes more defined. Jeri Westerson is a gifted story teller and her love of the time period makes for a thoroughly enjoyable light mystery novel.
Really enjoyable, historical fiction plus mystery, a wonderful combination.
Jeri Westerson's Crispin Guest series just gets better and better. As one of her loyal readers, I especially appreciate seeing the abundantly likable young sidekick, Jack Taylor, and his friendship with Guest, the to-die-for disgraced knight, grow in such a natural and subtle way that it was almost a surprise to realize that Jack has become a man in his own right. The mysterious elements of the book kept me guessing right to the end. One surprise, then another. This particular era has never been of much interest to me before, but owing to Ms. Westerson's books I've become quite a fan of the Middle Ages. (As long as I can read about them, not live in that period. ) I've read many more books set in that era since I got hooked on the Crispin Guest series but nowhere have I encountered a protagonist nor a mood like this series.