The Templar Knight Mysteries are set around 1200 AD in England and feature a sleuth named Bascot de Marins, a Templar Knight who has seen action in the Holy Land, lost an eye, and acquired a mute sidekick named Gianni. I suspect that more of Bascot’s background was revealed in previous mysteries, but the reader can enjoy this one without necessarily going back to read the previous stories. Bascot is 40-ish, still fit, and a man who cares deeply for the less fortunate. He has already proven his worth to Lady Nicolaa de la Haye, hereditary castellan of Lincoln castle, where this and previous mysteries have been set, by helping her solve other murders in Lincoln. This is a perfectly fine little mystery that would be entertaining for a rainy day or travel purposes. Much of my enjoyment came from the history that author Maureen Ash provides as she unravels the mystery of the murder of Aubrey Tercel.
Aubrey Tercel was the 26-year-old cofferer (a servant who does some accounting) to Lady Nicolaa’s sister Petronille, who has been visiting Lincoln with her daughter Alinor and their retinue. Aubrey had been carrying on an affair with the young wife of an influential Lincoln guild leader, the furrier Simon Adgate. Shortly after a tryst with her within castle walls, on the night that Lady Nicolaa held a feast for Lincoln’s guild masters to show her appreciation for their generous support of her new home for orphans, Aubrey is drawn out onto a dark part of the castle wall and shot through the chest with a small cross-bow. Was Aubrey murdered because of his affair, or is this related to his search for his birth parents? Who would have the nerve to commit such an act at the castle itself? Lady Nicolaa knows that in order to get to the bottom of this horrible crime, she will need the help of her old friend Bascot de Marins.
In addition to Bascot, Lady Nicolaa relies on several other characters to investigate Aubrey, his past, his dealings with locals and his death. Her 18-year-old niece Alinor and her son Richard, who is stand-in sheriff while Nicolaa’s husband is traveling, are smart and effective detectives for Bascot, even doing a good cop/bad cop routine at one point as they question a person of interest. The serjeant of the Lincoln Garrison, Ernulf, is also valuable to the investigation since he is a life-long resident of Lincoln, knows everyone, and has an incredible memory. Lady Nicolaa is no slouch herself. An able administrator of castle business, she is respected and revered by the people of Lincoln and has a reputation for both toughness and fairness.
As Bascot and company investigate the murder, the reader learns more about the plight of both women and children in medieval England. Certainly, Nicolaa and the royal women of her household wield authority and influence, but most women find themselves at the mercy of men and must guard their reputations above all things. Nicolaa’s endeavors to build an orphanage were a response to the increasing number of homeless children who, particularly during harsh winter months, died around Lincoln. Among the characters in this tale are some of the youngsters who benefit from the work of Nicolaa and the guild masters. From them, we learn about the fears and dangers they face and how they become orphans.
If you like murder mysteries and historical fiction, A Deadly Penance is worth a look. It reminded me of Ellis Peters’ outstanding Brother Cadfael series, which I highly recommend.