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The Poisoned Serpent

The Poisoned Serpent

2.6 8
by Joan Wolf

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Norman England has little to celebrate in the new year of 1140. The country is immersed in a bitter civil war from which no one is immune, including Hugh de Leon, heir to an earldom. His Uncle Guy has arranged his marriage to the spoiled daughter of the newly named Earl of Lincoln. It is a merger that will combine two of the land's largest fortunes -- and give the


Norman England has little to celebrate in the new year of 1140. The country is immersed in a bitter civil war from which no one is immune, including Hugh de Leon, heir to an earldom. His Uncle Guy has arranged his marriage to the spoiled daughter of the newly named Earl of Lincoln. It is a merger that will combine two of the land's largest fortunes -- and give the de Leons unparalleled power. Hugh's heart, however, belongs to the Lady Cristen, and he will do everything he can -- including eloping -- to make her his own.

His plan is simple enough-until the new Earl of Lincoln is murdered, and a friend of Hugh's is accused of the crime. Though he has little time in which to foil his uncle's arrangement, Hugh cannot see an innocent man wrongly hanged. To save his friend and marry the woman he loves, Hugh must work fast to track down a deadly -- and wily -- serpent. But when he grabs it by the tail, can he avoid its poisonous bite?

Editorial Reviews

A young lord must use his powers of deduction to solve the murder of a nobleman, save an innocent life and outwit a devious foe in this medieval mystery set in Norman England.
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Catherine Coulter, writing as Joan Wolf, brings to life an "excellent medieval mystery" featuring the charming and ingenious knight Hugh de Leon. Booksellers found it "whisked" them away to the "days of Camelot." "An absolute joy to read." "Catherine Coulter as rewritten by Ellis Peters." "Fast-paced and action filled." "Mystery, with a touch of romance." "A page-turner." "Highly recommended."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Twelfth-century England provides the setting for Wolf's second medieval mystery (following No Dark Place), which serves up history and intrigue in equal measure. Stephen is the English king, but his crown and his kingdom are prey to shifting allegiances. Hugh de Leon, heir to the earl of Wiltshire, has given his heart and pledge to lovely Cristen Haslin, daughter of Lord Sommerford. But such a marriage does nothing to benefit Guy de Leon, earl of Wiltshire. Instead, the earl has arranged for Hugh to marry the lovely Elizabeth de Beaut , heiress to the earl of Lincoln. Elizabeth, in turn, is determined to refuse Hugh in favor of another. The murder of Gilbert de Beaut , earl of Lincoln, casts suspicion directly on one of Hugh's supporters, and indirectly on Hugh himself. As Hugh strives to prove the innocence of that supporter, he finds himself at odds with the sheriff of Lincoln's son, a foe since childhood. Handsome knights and strong, beautiful ladies perform here against some absorbing set pieces, including a game that resembles a huge rugby scrum and a trial as held by England's chief justiciar. Bold and bright characters, plenty of romance and a healthy dash of mystery and murder enliven this engaging novel. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
The medieval era is a popular setting for mysteries these days, as evidenced by these three new titles. Clare introduces a new heroine, the exemplary Abbess of Hawkenlye, who must join forces with an emissary from Richard Plantagenet to solve the murder of first one and then two young nuns. The ending is a little limp, but the writing is fine, and the abbess is an engaging character, one of the few religious in such mysteries (along with Sister Fidelma) actually to be presented in a positive light. Wolf brings back the hero of No Dark Place, Hugh de Leon, who in his first mystery discovered that he was heir to the Earl of Wiltshire. Hugh is determined to marry his feisty beloved despite opposition from the earl and is subsequently caught up in investigating the murder of the father of the bride the earl intends for him. The cool, savvy Hugh is almost too good to be true, and the psychic communication between him and his true love doesn't seem to fit with the otherwise realistically detailed surrounds, but the plot moves along quite nicely and should entertain most fans. Over the last few years. the publisher has been releasing Jecks's series featuring Sir Baldwin Furnshill, Keeper of the King's Peace in 14th-century England, in an attractive little mass-market format. Like all Jecks's tales, this one--concerning the suspicious death of the new master of Throwleigh, a five-year-old boy--is nicely detailed and tightly argued, with involving action and memorable characters. The whole series belongs in any collection where historicals are popular.--Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
YA-First introduced in No Dark Place (HarperCollins, 1999), Hugh de Leon, nephew of the Earl of Wiltshire, once again deduces clues, interviews suspects, makes connections, and analyzes evidence to solve a mystery. He delays plans to elope with Cristen, daughter of the Lord of Somerford, when he receives word that his friend Bernard has been accused of murder. Eventually he helps his friend and finds the villain, but not before others die. Set in early Norman England, the story includes details of everyday life, from politics to the garderobe. Major and minor characters are well drawn. The opening list of participants helps to keep titles and last names separated. Although this novel is simpler to read than most in Ellis Peters's "Brother Cadfael" series (Mysterious), set in the same time period, the relationships, court intrigue, and power struggles among the earls are not easy to follow. Those willing to do so will find themselves absorbed into the story as they watch a clever detective at work without modern devices to provide clues and evidence.-Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Eager to shore up his power against upstart noble William of Roumare, King Stephen of England plans to bind brilliant, honorable Lord Hugh de Leon more closely to him by granting him the hand of beautiful Elizabeth de Beauté. The only problem is that Hugh wants to marry the gifted, compassionate healer Cristen, the daughter of his father Guy de Leon's vassal Nigel Haslin. A combustible situation—and one that boils over with the news that Elizabeth's father, whom Stephen had just created Earl of Lincoln in the stead of the dangerous William of Roumare, has been murdered. Hugh, returning to the earl's castle, the home where he was brought up (No Dark Place, 1999), to investigate his death, finds his adoptive father, the late Sheriff of Lincoln, replaced by the father of Hugh's childhood enemy, Sir Richard Canville, and sees that his intended bride is as spoiled as she is comely. Wolf's leisurely pace allows for the arrival of Cristen, summoned telepathically by Hugh; a celebration of St. Agatha's Fair that will increase the body count; and a trial by mortal combat between Hugh and the unsurprising killer. The front-loaded 12th-century trappings are restricted largely to leaden expository dialogue and descriptions; soon enough Hugh and his friends are grinning inside their hauberks and using contractions. Medieval Lite, with the characters, as in Anne Perry, graded up or down to the extent that they presciently model the enlightened attitudes of our new millennium.

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Chapter One

Somerford Castle
December 1139

Cristen was giving haircuts. She had spread a large Sheet under a bench in the middle of the great hall, and a procession of her father's household knights submitted themselves to her ministrations during the course of the winter afternoon. As the last of them stood up, blowing the hair off his nose, she turned to the young man sitting in front of the large fireplace playing chess.

"You next, Hugh," she said.

Hugh de Leon ran his fingers through his hair as if to assess its length. "My hair is fine as it is," he said.

"It's too long. It makes you look untidy."

Hugh looked affronted.

Thomas, the young knight who was playing chess with Hugh, grinned. "The rest of us had to get Christmas haircuts, my lord. I think it's only fair that you follow our example."

"I hate to get my hair cut," Hugh complained. "The hair always gets under my shirt and itches."

Cristen flapped the large cloth she had been draping over the knights to keep the hair off of their clothes. "This will stop the hair from going down your neck," she promised.

"Hah," Hugh returned. "I've heard that before."

But he got to his feet and moved toward the chair, stepping around the tufts of hair that the shorn knights had left behind.

Cristen raised her comb.

Hugh yelped. "You're not going to use the same comb on me that you just used on Lionel!"

"Why not?" Cristen demanded. "His hair was clean."

"I will get you my own comb," Hugh said.

"I'm insulted," Lionel called from the bench where he was repairing a link on his mail shirt.

"Adela always told me neverto use any comb but my own," Hugh said firmly.

"Go and get it, then," Cristen said with resignation.

When Hugh invoked the name of his beloved foster mother, she knew that the subject was closed.

He returned with his comb, handed it to Cristen, and took his place on the bench. She ran the comb once through his thick, straight, ink-black hair, and then she began to cut.

"I can feel the hair going down my collar," Hugh informed her after she had been working for a few minutes.

"Be quiet," she replied sternly. "You are worse than Brian." Brian was her father's page.

They were interrupted as the door to the hall opened and the lord of the castle, Sir Nigel Haslin, came in.

"Father," Cristen said with satisfaction. "You are just in time to get your hair cut."

But her father paid no heed. Striding across the room, he was intent on Hugh, still enthroned on the haircut bench. "I've just got word," Nigel said, "that Stephen has named Gilbert de Beaute to be Earl of Lincoln."

Cristen stopped cutting.

"De Beaute?" Hugh said in surprise.


The two men looked at each other soberly.

Resuming her cutting, Cristen asked, "Didn't everyone expect him to name William of Roumare?"

"William of Roumare certainly expected it," Hugh said.

"The king obviously decided it was safer to split the power in Lincolnshire between Roumare and de Beaute," Nigel returned. "We can only hope that this development will not push Roumare and his half brother, the Earl of Chester, into the empress's camp."

The civil war between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda, the only legitmate child of England's former king, had been raging since September, when she had landed in England along with her half brother, Robert, Earl of Gloucester. At the moment, the empress's party was securely in control of almost all the western lands. Outside the west, the country was weakly in support of Stephen.

"What do you know about de Beaute?" Nigel asked Hugh, who had been brought up in Lincoln.

Hugh looked thoughtful.

"Ralf thought he was a nuisance. He seemed always to be involved in some lawsuit or other regarding land."

"Hmm," said Nigel through his aristocratic nose. "Well, obviously Stephen thinks he can trust de Beaute's loyalty more than he can trust Roumare's."

"You can get up now," Cristen said to Hugh. "I'm finished." She looked at Nigel. "Come along, Father. Time to get your Christmas haircut."

Nigel sighed. "Oh, all right."

"Once Lady Cristen starts cutting, no one is safe," Brian said mischievously.

"That is right," Cristen agreed. Her large brown eyes regarded her father commandingly.

Nigel took off his cloak and handed it to his squire. "Don't get hair down my back," he warned his daughter.

I won't, she replied.

"Yes, she will," Hugh said gloomily. "I am going inside to change my shirt."

That evening Nigel retired early to his private solar, leaving the rest of the household singing songs around the fire. He had been brooding in his large, high-backed chair for almost an hour when the door opened and Cristen and Hugh came in.

Nigel took one look at the two young faces and felt a knot form in the pit of his stomach. He knew what was coming.

"May we speak to you for a moment, sir?" Hugh said.

Nigel looked at the young man whom he had known for five months, and whom he had come to love like a son.

"I suppose so," he said heavily.

Side by side, they moved to stand between him and the glowing charcoal brazier.

"I want to marry Cristen," Hugh said.

Nigel shut his eyes. When he opened them again, he fixed them upon his daughter.

Her small, delicate face was pale. Her eyes were shadowed.

Cristen knew what he was going to say.

Wearily, Nigel rubbed his hand up and down his face.

"Hugh, if the decision were up to me, I would tell you that there is no one to whom I would rather give Cristen than you. But my daughter cannot marry without the consent of her overlord. Nor can you marry without the consent of your uncle. And I am very sure that Lord Guy will never agree to such a match."

Hugh's fine-boned face wore a look that Nigel had seen before. When Hugh looked like that, nothing on earth could move him.

He said, "If Guy does give his consent, will you agree?"

Nigel sighed. "Aye, I will give my consent if Lord Guy will give his."

Hugh smiled, suddenly looking as young as his twenty-one years. "Thank you, sir."

Nigel felt impelled to add, "Guy is not going to consent to this match, Hugh. He will want you to make a marriage that will bring more land into the family. The de Leons have nothing to gain from a marriage to Cristen. Somerford already belongs to the Earl of Wiltshire's honor."

The smile disappeared from Hugh's face. His eyes narrowed. "We shall see," he said.

Once more, Nigel looked at his daughter. His heart ached when he saw the expression In her great brown eyes.

I should have kept her away from Hugh, he thought. I should never have allowed this situation to develop.

But from the moment Hugh had arrived at Somerford, the two of them had been as close as two people who have known each other forever...

What People are Saying About This

Catherine Coulter
Dive into this compelling medieval story--you'll never want to come up.
Nora Roberts
Joan Wolf never fails to deliver the best.

Meet the Author

Joan Wolf lives in Milford, Connecticut, with her husband and two children. In her spare time she rides her horse, walks her dog, and roots fanatically for the New York Yankees and UConn Huskies.

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Poisoned Serpent 2.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book ties up the loose ends left at the hasty conclusion of No Dark Place, but it doesn't measure up to her earlier works. The main characters were flat and overly predictable, as was the story's conclusion. It was an enjoyable book, but I had expected more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing compelling here. No character development. No atmosphere or sense of period. Too many other authors do this era better....much better.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
It has been less than a year since Hugh discovered that he is a De Leon, the nephew and heir to the Earl of Wiltshire. Kidnapped when he was eight, Hugh was raised as the foster son of the Sheriff of Lincoln and his wife. His new rank in society brings with it the expectation that he will enter into a marriage that will increase his family¿s power base. The obstinate Hugh plans to wed Cristen Haslin whose father the Lord of Somerford is a vassal to Wiltshire.

Hugh is prepared to give up his new position and elope with his beloved Cristen. However, before they can complete their plans, Hugh learns that his boyhood friend is accused of killing the Earl of Lincoln. Hugh knows his pal could never perform such a heinous task. He rushes to Lincoln to ferret out the identity of the real killer even though the adjudicating officials are convinced that recent military events tie Hugh¿s friend to the crime.

The civil war that raged in England between the forces of Matilda and Stephen affected nobles and commoners alike albeit in different ways. It is during this turbulent time frame that the events in THE POISONED SERPENT occur. Honor is something that can be purchased for a fee or some land, and truth is judged by whom is in control at the time. Joan Wolf is a talented storyteller who writes a clever historical mystery starring an engaging hero whose ethics makes him stand out among his peers. Fans of medieval mysteries will want Lord Hugh and his band of merry followers to return in future engagements.

Harriet Klausner