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A Trust Betrayed (A Scottish murder mystery) [Hardcover]

Candace Robb
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Amazon Review

Once upon a not so long ago, historical crime novels were a rare breed. In the dizzying profusion of such titles at present (with anywhere from ancient Rome to Renaissance Italy a fit locale for dark deeds and pre-Holmes detectives), a certain panache is needed to make a new entry rise above the crop. Candace Robb has demonstrated in such novels as The Apothecary Rose and The King's Bishop that her Owen Archer mysteries are worthy successors to the groundbreaking medieval novels of Ellis Peters, full of satisfyingly convoluted plotting. A Trust Betrayed inaugurates a new series of mysteries set in Scotland at the time of Robert the Bruce. In the spring of 1297, Margaret Kerr is afraid that her merchant husband Roger has been caught up in the pending rebellion against the English. Her husband's cousin and factor, Jack Sinclair, agrees to try to locate Roger in the dangerous city of Edinburgh. When he is found murdered, Margaret undertakes to solve the mystery herself, but she quickly discovers that Scotland at war is a very dangerous place for a woman alone. Apart from the effortless conjuring up of historical detail (a sine qua non of the genre), Robb is particularly acute at dealing with issues, such as the place of women in this troubled society: without ever making Margaret a proto-feminist, she cannily examines attitudes to gender in the distant past while never forgetting the imperatives of a rattling yarn. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

Mystery and intrigue in Medieval Scotland
Candace Robb's latest novel is the first in a proposed series featuring the indomitable Margaret Kerr, who travels to an Edinburgh occupied by the English and riven with bloody internal division to seek her missing husband. Merticulously researched and vividly drawn, A Trust Betrayed is an unmissable mystery from an established voice in the genre. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

A Wake and a Burial Dunfermline, 26 April 1297 Sleet drummed against the parchment window beside the door. Logs sizzled and popped in the fire circle. A water jug stood ready for dousing embers that might fly outside the ring of stones. After devoting so many hours to the altar cloth neither woman wished to chance any damage. The firelight picked out the colours on the long linen draped across the women’s laps, a paschal lamb sitting at the foot of a crucifix, a crown of thorns in the grass beside him. Margaret leaned away from the fire, towards the oil lamp on a small table at her side, preferring its steady light for the fine needlework. Now and again she glanced up at Katherine, smiled unsteadily if she caught her goodmother’s eye, then bent back over her work. Katherine did likewise. Each forced a brave face for the other. Each saw the questions, the sorrow, the fear in the other’s eyes. Roger Sinclair – Margaret’s husband, Katherine’s son – had been gone more than five months. And now his cousin Jack, who had departed in search of Roger three weeks past, had been brought home in a shroud.

Margaret pricked her finger for the third time and judged it best to put her work aside before she stained it with her blood. She cut her thread and tucked her needle into a cloth in the basket at her side. Rising, she sucked at the puncture as she opened the street door, stepped out into the chill, wet evening, lifting her face and spreading her arms to the icy drizzle.

‘The draught, gooddaughter,’ Katherine said. Margaret stepped back over the threshold, shut the door. ‘It is so warm by the fire I cannot breathe.’ The unhealthy flush of her goodmother’s face made Margaret feel even hotter. Nor could Katherine mask her sweaty odour despite all the lavender water she wore. ‘My old bones enjoy heat.’ Old bones. Katherine would not have said that before Roger disappeared. She had aged in his absence. And today she had received another blow with the news of Jack’s death. It was more than the loss of a nephew – Katherine had raised him as a second son. Margaret resumed her seat, taking care not to wrinkle the cloth as she lifted it. She considered Katherine’s fleshy body – her goodmother indulged excessively in food as well as heat – and judged her shoulders more rounded than they had been the past summer, the joints on her hands more knobbly. Perhaps there was more grey in her brows. ‘You are not old.’ ‘I ken my own body, lass.’ Katherine did not look up. Margaret picked up her basket as if to take up her needle again, but she could not sit still. ‘I’ll sit the lykewake this evening.’ ‘It is over cold in that hut,’ Katherine protested. ‘I lasted but a few short prayers – me, with all this flesh protecting my bones from the cold. And you are so much thinner.’ She shook her head at Margaret. ‘I cannot allow it. What would Roger say if you lost fingers or toes keeping vigil over his cousin?’ What would Roger think? Margaret could not guess. Out of their two years of marriage she could count on one hand how many months he had been home. She hardly knew him any better than she had at their betrothal. Before her marriage she had dreamed of their life together – she would share in the concerns of his shipping business, entertain the prominent burgesses of Perth, bear children, run an efficient household, comfort Roger and the young ones through their illnesses. Instead, she was commonly alone, the burgesses gossiped about her husband’s long absences, and as for children, there were none – they had little chance of being conceived. She did not know which possibility was more frightening – that Roger was caught up in the fighting against the English king, perhaps lying injured somewhere, or that he was away from her this long while by choice. And since learning of Jack’s violent death an even greater fear gripped her – that Jack had been killed because he was searching for Roger, which meant her husband was in danger. Katherine moved from fretting about Margaret to reassuring her. ‘Celia is out there, ready to affright any evil spirits with candles.’ Celia was Katherine’s maid. ‘A member of the family should keep the lykewake,’ Margaret said. She regretted her words when she saw Katherine’s small frown. Her goodmother had been kind to her, welcoming her warmly at Yuletide and again at Easter, weeks when Margaret’s house in Perth would have echoed with her loneliness. ‘I should keep the lykewake, not a mere servant – that is what I meant,’ Margaret appeased. ‘Not that you should do it. You must ready the house for those who will come for the burial.’ Katherine relented when Margaret promised to wrap herself in two mantles, her coarse plaid one over the fine wool one her goodmother had given her at Christmas. The ground in the frosty evening yard gave Margaret pause. It was rough and slippery, sleet washing over the frozen ruts in the packed earth. The hut was not far. Light from the lantern she carried already danced on the door of the small building. But she would last no longer than Katherine if she had wet feet. She took time to strap wooden pattens over her soft, worn shoes, then she gathered her skirts in hand to cross the expanse. Margaret slowed as she approached the hut. When she had last seen Jack he had been bright-eyed and laughing with the prospect of a journey. Her burden of dread had lifted a little with the possibility that the months of waiting, of uncertainty, might be about to end, that she would learn what had delayed Roger. At least something was being done. But if Jack had discovered anything he had sent no word before his death. Margaret knew no more than before, and now had lost the person who had seen to Roger’s business in his absence – Jack had been his cousin’s factor, representing Roger at the port of Perth, arranging sales of the goods in the warehouses. He had also been a good friend to Margaret. The shed was lopsided, made of mud and twigs, roofed with old thatch. When Margaret pulled at the door it stuck and she had to yank it, rattling the flimsy structure. The maid jumped up with a cry. Shielding her eyes from the lantern’s bright glow, she cried, ‘Who comes here?’ ‘It’s Margaret.’ She fumbled at the lantern shutters with frozen fingers. ‘I was feart you were an evil spirit,’ said Celia. ‘As I would have been,’ said Margaret, shutting the door. ‘That is why we are here, to keep the evil spirits from Jack’s departing soul. Though I think his soul must have passed before he came here.’ He had been found in Edinburgh three days earlier. Celia hugged herself as a gust of wind from the open door blew out a candle. ‘It is a night for spirits,’ said Margaret. ‘Aye, it is.’ Celia lit the candle from another. ‘And a cold one.’ The mantle she wore looked warm – Katherine treated her servants well – but as Celia turned from the candle and shook out her skirt Margaret saw that it was damp from the rivulets that criss-crossed the packed-earth floor. Margaret held out the lantern. ‘Take yourself off to bed. I shall watch till dawn.’ ‘You are kind, Dame Kerr, but my mistress told me to bide until sunrise.’ Celia settled back down in her chair in the corner, tucking a loose strand of dark hair into her cap and patting it primly. She was a tiny woman of an age with Margaret, not yet twenty, with a pale complexion and dark eyes under heavy brows. ‘I’ll not disturb your prayers.’ Celia answered only to her mistress, and even then she was very stubborn – a trait tiny people often had, it seemed to Margaret. She did not bother to argue with Celia. Neither did she intend to let the woman interfere with her farewell to Jack. The sputtering candles burning at both ends of the shrouded corpse scented the air with beeswax but could not mask the other, stronger odour of decay. Dried herbs had been added to Jack’s shroud before it had been sewn shut, as was the custom, but they were no longer equal to the task. Sewn shut. Margaret had only her brother Andrew’s terse description of Jack’s wounds – the slashed stomach and throat, related dis-passion-ately. Not that Andrew had reason to sorrow, no more than for any man’s death. Her brother, a canon of Holyrood in Edinburgh, had brought Jack’s body home, but she doubted the two had ever spoken more than a few cordial words of greeting. It seemed to her that someone who had cared for Jack should witness his wounds. In fact, having had so little acquaintance with him, Andrew might even have made a mistake in identifying the body as Jack. ‘How can I know it is him?’ Margaret whispered as she stood over the shrouded figure. ‘Father Andrew said as much, Dame Kerr,’ said Celia. Andrew had taken his vows before Margaret met Roger and his family. He had come to her wedding, where he would have met Jack, but she did not know of another time he might have seen him. A mistake was possible. Still, the prospect of opening the shroud filled her with dread. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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