Book Review: The Bookseller's Tale

Swinfen, Ann
2 stars = Meh

It is a truth universally acknowledged (at least by my friends) that a person such as myself, in possession of historical studies, must be in want of a good medieval mystery. Sadly, I found Ann Swinfen's first book in her Oxford Mystery Series to be only so-so, not even qualifying as good. I admit, too, that I am rather spoiled by having read many of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael Mysteries and all of Mel Starr's Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton. Perhaps if I had not done so I would like this series better, but I cannot assess it any other way than having encountered medieval mystery before. The Bookseller's Tale opens with bookseller Nicholas Elyot of Oxford living a quiet yet sad life, his wife taken by the Plague, his widowed sister living with him (for the same reason, the Plague took her family) to care for not only him but his surviving children. All is going along fairly well until a young student who frequents is found murdered by Master Elyot, dumped unceremoniously in the river Cherwell. What ensues is a long trail of details to catch his killer by himself and the murdered student's academic teacher (why not the local Sheriff or Bailiff, I'll never know). The book is excellent at descriptions of how a bookseller's life in the mid-1300s would look. Who they might employ, who would be their friends (academics, it seems), and the layout of hearth and home and Oxford. In truth, it was more like The Time-Traveler's Guide to Navigating the Streets of 1350 Oxford than a mystery at times, Ms. Swinfen takes you on a twisty-turny journey through streets that I assume are mostly non-existent today. I would have preferred less detail of streets and business and more interesting plot, I found myself missing the intrigue of Ellis Peters and the straightforward style of Mel Starr. Not even illuminated books and stolen property were enough to spice it up, as I found myself plodding along on rabbit trails with Master Elyot. As a result I was rather bored about 2/3 through and didn't particularly care why the young man was murdered, though I did finish the book and went "Oh." at the end. But again, this could be just me. Maybe to others it will be exciting and the perfect accompaniment to a rainy afternoon and cuppa by the hearth.

Reviewer's Name
C. Marie