Saturday, October 18, 2014
Fear in the Forest - Bernard Knight
In the 12th century, the Royal Forests were hunting lands reserved for the king, where even gathering firewood was forbidden to anyone else. Actually poaching in these lands could lead to a death sentence. This story is set in Devon, in the area around Exeter and Dartmoor, where the local foresters are notorious for their greed and corruption.
When one of the senior Foresters turns up dead in a local village, the county Coroner (a new office created by King Richard) is summoned to investigate the death. Sir John de Wolfe is a loyal king’s man, given this job partially due to his service in the Crusades. It also happens that he’s the brother in law of the local Sheriff, but Sir Richard de Revelle was on the side of Prince John in the recent rebellion, and de Wolfe doesn’t trust him. When de Revelle shows interest in the killing of the forester, Sir John knows something is up.
The author of these books is an academic, and did weave in actual historical figures from this time period. There’s also a great deal of attention paid to the details of normal life. I’d heard of the Royal Forest when I stayed in Cornwall last year – the lands of the cottage we stayed at ended at a wall of the former royal forest in that area. I’d figured it was a relatively small hunting area. I had no idea how extensive they were at one time, and how much control the king (but really, the local men who managed to get the offices representing the king) wielded in those areas. I already knew this, but being a peasant in medieval England stucked!
I also loved Sir John’s life. He has a wife who hates him, but also knows she owes her station in life (and her nice dinners, and nice gowns) to being married to him. He also has a mistress. One of the interesting side stories of this book is what happens when Nessa becomes pregnant.
If you like a good history read along with a mystery, I do recommend this book. (It’s actually several books into a series. There are a few references I can tell referred to prior books, but it was nothing necessary to the story).