Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Red Velvet Turnshoe-Cassandra Clark

The Red Velvet Turnshoe
Cassandra Clark
Minotaur, Nov 24 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312537364

In 1383 the Archbishop of York directs Sister Hildegard to journey to Rome to bring home the Cross of Constantine. The trek is expected to be dangerous due to the Black Plague, the Hundred Years War, and two popes claiming Peter’s See dividing loyalties. However, although she some doubts over taking the wooden cross said to have been the one the Emperor Constantine pledged his fealty to Christianity on, the abbess begins her trek by joining a baggage train led by her friend Ulf as the steward of Lord Roger de Hutton moving his cargo shipment to Bruges.

In Bruges a crate containing wool turns rancid with a horrific odor that everyone knows means death even before opening the box. Cocooned inside is Lord Roger’s clerk Reynard of Risngholme whose throat was sliced open obviously in England. Everyone assumes Pierrekyn the sodomite minstrel killed the clerk; that is everyone except the nun dressed as a pilgrim. She sneaks Pierrekyn out of the city dressed as a squire to Sir Talbot, the knight keeping Sister Hildegard safe in dangerous Italy and back to England where she plans to prove the minstrel’s innocence.

The second Sister Hildegard medieval thriller (see Hangman Blind) is a super tale that showcases Europe at a time of horrific strife as many believe the Black Plague and the wars are because of God’s wrath over the papal divide and other heresies. Fans journeying with Hildegard obtain a taste of fourteenth century life in the moors of Yorkshire, impoverished Flemish villages and treacherous Renaissance Italy. Although the story line has been used before (see Company of Liars by Karen Maitland), Cassandra Clark keeps it fresh with a strong cast led by the courageous nun and a deep historical base to include a jurisdiction dispute over the homicide that has readers transported to fourteenth century Europe.

Harriet Klausner