Around this time of year, my thoughts turn to the Middle Ages. Not sure why, but they do. So, in that spirit, I offer these often overlooked medieval mysteries.
The ones set earliest in history are the King's Hounds mysteries by Martin Jensen. In them, Winston, an ex-religious and illuminator, and his man Hafdan, a former nobleman, do the bidding of Cnute, Danish royal and king of England. Full of earthy description and period atmosphere, one gets a real feel for Dark Ages England in these witty mysteries.
Sharon Kay Penman wrote several well-researched historical novels set in medieval England before writing her Justin de Quincy mysteries. In them, Justin, the natural son of the bishop of Chester, finds employment with Eleanor of Aquitaine, dowager queen and regent for her son Richard the Lionheart, imprisoned on his way back from Crusade. Closely following historical events, these four mysteries are quite plausible, fast-paced, and are populated by well-developed characters
Set during the reign of Richard II, the John Gower mysteries by Bruce Holsinger are more period fun. Not as well-remembered as his pal Geoffrey Chaucer, Gower is a fellow poet and man who makes it his business to know things. In A Burnable Book, a manuscript has been stolen that accurately prophesies the deaths of English kings and is getting people killed. Chaucer sends Gower after it to keep the country from sliding into chaos. The Invention of Fire, eighteen bodies are found with fatal wounds no one has seen before. Gower is on the hunt for something called a "handgonne," which may change crime and war forever. While this is a new series, we can hope for more compelling and intricately plotted novels of mystery and intrigue.
All of these books are exhaustively researched, and it shows. Far from being snooze-fests, however, they move right along. All the characters live the curse of existing in interesting times. Got other series you like? Let us know in the comments.