My thanks to Allison & Busby and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
A Taste for Killing is Book 10 in the Bradecote and Catchpoll series of medieval mysteries by Sarah Hawkswood, and the second book that I read in this series, having come across it and enjoyed book 9 very much last year. In fact, I’d liked it so much that I requested this book as soon as I saw it on NetGalley. The series follows Serjeant Catchpoll and his superior and friend Undersheriff Hugh Bradecote as they solve murders in Worcestershire, serving under the Sheriff William de Beauchamp. They are assisted by Underserjeant Wakelin, a young man who has recently joined them (as Catchpoll’s apprentice). While the stories of the main characters progress as the series goes on, each book can be read as a standalone. The developments in the characters’ lives are easy to catch on to, though of course reading in order makes it more fun.
A Taste for Killing opens in January 1145, three days before the feast of St Agnes. Godfrey Bowyer lives with his wife Blanche, and journeyman Alwin, cook Gode, and maid Runild. Goldfrey and Blanche have just been served their meal, bread and pottage, and the journeyman and two servants are in the kitchen hearing the sounds of the master and mistress quarrel and throw dishes and pitchers at each other—not an unusual occurrence. The row subsides, and Blanche retires to her room while poor Runild cleans the mess. But suddenly they hear different sounds, Godfrey in pain, doubled over, while Blanche comes down the stairs vomiting. Godfrey is dead, poisoned but Blanche, attended by Roger the Healer survives. Godfrey may have been the best bowmaker in town but he was not much liked. He had a roving eye, and his relationships with those around him were strained whether it was with his wife, his younger brother, or the town bailiff. An unwilling Bradecote, awaiting the birth of his child and not wanting to leave his wife’s side, must join Serjeant Catchpoll and look into the matter. At first, it seems the three in the kitchen were the only people who could possibly have committed the crime, but as they start following different lines of inquiry, things no longer seem as simple. Alongside we follow developments in Bradecote’s life as he fears losing his wife to childbirth a second time, while young Wakelin who is proving himself a worthy Underserjeant, struggles to gather the courage to tell his mother about the girl he loves and wishes to marry.
This book had all the elements I loved in this series the first time I read it last year—a good mystery, excellent historical detail, and likeable characters—and made for as good a read.
I love the sense of place and time Hawkswood has created in these books. Its setting, like the Brother Cadfael books, is during the civil war/Anarchy between King Stephen and Empress Maud, though the unrest doesn’t much affect our stories. While no larger historical events are referenced (though Empress Maud is mentioned a couple of times), in the book one can get a good feel of the social scenario and hierarchy, power relations, everyday life and mannerisms (from meals to forms of address to social interactions), and of course, how shrieval authorities would have gone about conducting an investigation into a suspicious death at a time when resources and knowledge were very different to the present day.
I enjoyed catching up with Bradecote, Catchpoll, and Wakelin. All three belong to different social stations, but Bradecote and Catchpoll have developed a comfortable and friendly relationship, where Catchpoll, the elder of the two taking the lead, or making an observation out of turn is taken graciously by the other, and both respect each other, recognise each other’s talents, as well as take full advantage of the social position of each (for instance, Wakelin’s access to the kitchens or to local gossip through his mother, or Bradecote’s influence and even the fear his position might induce when needed). Wakelin must tread more carefully, being newer to the team, but he is proving himself worthy with every case, and his relationship with the other two is reaching that same easy state. With the Sheriff himself of course, all must toe the line and all formalities observed.
The mystery was an interesting one, though in this book (perhaps the effect of reading too many detective stories), I did guess whodunit very early on. This did not affect my enjoyment of the book though, as I found myself engaged by the writing (this book didn’t feel as slow moving as the previous one) and reading on to find out whether I was right or whether there was still a surprise twist in store. My guess was right, but it was interesting to watch the case unfold, and elements of the explanation emerge which one could work out only as the book went on.
A satisfying instalment in a series that I’m certainly going to be reading more of.
(copy reviewed: Kindle ARC; Allison & Busby, 2022; release date: 12 May 2022)