Reviewing the eleventh book in a mystery series without having read any of the earlier volumes can be a problematical task. Central characters have already been developed to the point that series fans would find the kind of character development necessary for newbies tediously repetitious. Relationships between characters would often have already been established. Allusions to past events meaningful to fans would be meaningless to the uninitiated. In a sense, it is like coming into a theater in the middle of a movie. Perhaps then reviewing that eleventh book should be left to those familiar with its 10 predecessors.
On the other hand, the fact that a series has been around for 11 volumes suggests that the author has got something good going, and it would be a shame for a reader to fail to take the opportunity to find out what that something is. After all, if the reading experience is as positive as the series longevity suggests, one might well decide to go back and binge on them all. Indeed, the measure of the success of the book may well be whether the reader goes in search of volume one.
Satan’s Lullaby: A Medieval Mystery is the eleventh in Priscilla Royal’s 13th century series featuring Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas of the Tyndale Priory. Set in 1278 in Norfolk, the plot concerns a priory inspection by an arrogant French cleric, Father Davoir, who also happens to be the brother of the head of the order. When a favored young clerk of Davoir is poisoned by a medicinal potion from the priory apothecary, Sister Anne the sub-infirmarian is accused of murder and imprisoned. It is up to Eleanor and Thomas, who are also dealing with accusations about their own moral behavior, to discover the true killer. While not quite a page turner, the book is an enjoyable read.
Moreover, unlike many of these historically based mysteries, it provides a fascinating look at the historical setting. Royal has done her homework. Whether she is talking about medieval medicine, relations between church law and the king’s law, or the intricacies of church politics, the reader gets the feeling that she knows what she is talking about. She is not the first to write a mystery set in the Middle Ages, but she is one of the best at creating a believable portrait of the age. Her characters, both the clerics and lay people, are people of their time. Their values are the values of their day, and those values are explained clearly and concisely. Besides in Father Davior, she has drawn an absolutely delicious portrait of medieval male superciliousness. There is a history lesson here, but one that goes down with that spoonful of sugar.
Priscilla Royall is a very effective story teller, and if the measure of Satan’s Lullaby is getting readers to go back to the earlier books, just tell me where I can get a hold of Wine of Violence or Tyrant of the Mind or Sorrow . . . . well you get the idea.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1464203563,1590589653]