Justin de Quincey has received an excellent education for 12th century England, despite the fact that he’s never known either of his parents. Finally at an age to set off on his own, Justin discovers that his father is actually the benefactor he’d already been familiar with, Aubrey de Quincey, nothing less than the Bishop of Coventry. When leaving, his thoughts clouded with anger and betrayal, he stumbles upon a murder scene, and receives a letter meant for Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. The Angevin Empire is in a bad place, as King Richard has gone missing on his return from the Crusades. Justin’s successful delivery of the letter to the queen leads to his assignment – discovering who had this man killed, why, and who might know what’s happened to King Richard.
Despite having read and adored most of Sharon Kay Penman’s books, I’d never actually read any of her medieval mysteries before this one. I bought all four – because, of course, I knew I would probably enjoy them once I read them – but I’ve had this one sitting on the shelf for almost four years. Historical mysteries have been keeping my interest in the overall historical fiction genre keen, so I decided at long last to see what one of my favourite authors had in store.
The Queen’s Man combines Penman’s exceptional talent for evoking the medieval atmosphere with a mystery that was satisfactory. While I’d never really put this on par with one of her epics, not least for the fact that it doesn’t contain the huge range of pure human emotion and historical detail as those do, her skills are still very obvious in this shorter, faster paced format. The main character, Justin, is sometimes a little bit too obtuse, even for a reader that is as bad at guessing mysteries as I am. He’s obviously inexperienced, but he doesn’t always draw conclusions as quickly as I felt he should. The mystery itself isn’t really one that had my heart racing, but it was interesting enough to keep me reading.
I suppose that “satisfactory” really is the best word for the book; it was a nice way to spend the afternoon, a quick read that sent me back to medieval England which is something I always enjoy. If I’d started here with Penman’s works, I’m not sure I’d have fallen in love with her writing as much as I did with The Sunne in Splendour or Here Be Dragons, but as a fan already, I can tell you that I’ll finish the next three, and I expect I will like them as much as I liked this book. Don’t go in expecting another breathtaking historical epic and you’ll enjoy The Queen’s Man - although it looks like the only place you can currently buy the book is used or on Kindle in the US.