Hugo Stanton, a messenger for King Henry II’s court of justice, has been having a very bad week. Not only was he forced to witness the accidental drowning of an innocent man (during trial by ordeal), but he has also been set upon and beaten by cutpurses. And to top it all off, he has now been dispatched as an underling to the fussy and fastidious clerk Aelred Barling to investigate the horrific murder of a village blacksmith.
The local lord is convinced that the beggar in the village gaol is responsible for the crime, but Barling’s sense of order and Stanton’s sense of intuition perceive that the case it not so open-and-shut as all that. The men learn to work together, united in their common search for justice, puzzling out who in this village is telling the truth (anyone?) and who has something to hide (everyone?).
When the first murder is followed up by another, and then another, the whole village succumbs to the fear of not knowing who might be next. Barling’s methodical manner might help uncover some clues, but Stanton is also going to have to keep his legs spry and his wits about him if the King’s men will escape becoming victims themselves.
This well-paced medieval thriller kept me racing along to the very end. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Barling is no twenty-first century agnostic. While he believes that the threat of trial by ordeal can work wonders for confessions, he also has no doubt that God will manifest the right through the trial itself. Barling is also devoted to the strict imposition of the King’s justice across the land of England, justice that Henry II was famous for instituting during his reign. Stanton, meanwhile, is a man with a tortured past–he wants nothing more than to get away from the King’s court and to forget the woman he once loved.
In The King’s Justice, Hugo Stanton and Aelred Barling are both intriguing characters in their own right, and I can easily see a whole series built upon their grudging and unique friendship (much like Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin). Recommended for those who want a page-turner with some substance to it, and for those who don’t mind mysteries that are a little more gruesome than cozy.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author via Netgalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.