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Alys Clare's novels are like a breath of fresh air. I love medieval murder mysteries and there are certainly a lot of them about (thank goodness), but the authors books breathe new life into the period and her will they won't they situation with Helewise and Sir Josse, holds the reader's attention as well. Don't be swayed into thinking that these books are written with the female reader in mind. They are for everybody, young and old, male or female.

Richard the Lionheart is still hostage after the crusades, but his people are struggling to cope with the crippling amount they have had to pay to secure his ransom. Even before the problems with Richard's ransom not all of his subjects were enamoured of the King, who is hardly ever in the country he rules. No wonder his brother John is gathering to him a number of loyal followers.

The Abbess Helewise has the difficult task of keeping her abbey going through the cold and brutal winter, as she tries to fend off starvation of her nuns and the local villagers. Then out of the blue Helewise's son returns to her, a son she has not seen for nearly 20 years. He claims that his wife is suffering mental illness and his son is a mute. He desperately needs help.

But then a man is found strangled and hanging from a tree close by the abbey. Next day her son and his family flee and Sir Josse must investigate and delve into Helewise's past life before she took the veil. Were her husband and father in law all that they seemed?

Can the Abbess prevent even more murder, or will the blame be laid at the door of her innocent son?
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First Sentence: He had to wait until it was dark and everyone was asleep.

Abbess Helewise has been thinking about her life prior to joining the Abbey. She is surprised, yet concerned, when her son Loefgar, shows up with his wife, who looks pale and ill, and their 14-month son, who is unnaturally shy and won't speak. It is a relief to have her good friend, Josse d'Acquin, who had come to the Abbey ill but is recovered, on hand.

When a man, who claims his brother was killed by Leofger in a dispute, is found hanged near the Abbey, Loefgar, and his family, disappear. Helewise fears for her son, and questions how events from the past are impact the present.

The most important element of a book, to me, is the characters. It has always been the characters which have drawn me to this series.

We learn much more about Helewise than in previous books. These were times when an Abbess needn't have been a nun, so it's nice to see her as a woman, learn about her past, and how she came to Hawkenlye Abbey. As always, we see the strength of the friendship between Helewise and Josse.

Not only Helewise and Josse, but all the supporting characters come to life under Ms. Clare's hand, even the ones you don't trust. I do appreciate that we've see a transition in characters, since the beginning of the series. People come and go in life ad Clare handles it in a way which works.

In most of the previous books, there has been a strong element of the metaphysical. I am one who, if done well, enjoys that. It is an element of this book as well, and it works. These were times when, even with the dominance of the Catholic Church, people, including the clergy, were highly superstitious and believed the ancient powers and abilities. Although it is quite clear that Ms. Clare is no fan of the Church, I would suspect any book set in this time, which did not include some reference to the metaphysical.

Which leads to the third thing: I love English history. Not only did Ms. Clare include a map and genealogical chart at the beginning of the book, she clearly does her period research. Early in the story, Clare talks about King Henry being captured for ransom and the impact the levies was having on the lives of the people. She paints a vivid picture of people's lives, including the hunger and cold due to lack of money.

A slight misstep is in the plotting. I did figure out the motive and villain before the end, which reduced my rating, but it didn't spoil the read for me. In fact, I was so drawn into the book, I never wanted to put it down, and found the ending quite sad, but rather lovely.

I look forward to continuing with this series.

GIRL IN A RED TUNIC (Hist Mys-Abbess Helewise/Josse d'Acquin-England-Middle Ages/1193) - G+
Clare, Alys - 8th in series
Hodder & Stoughton, ©2005, UK Hardcover - ISBN: 0340831138
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on 19 May 2013
I bought this for my dad as I have previously read these novels at a library. He s very much into the Cafael books so I thought he would be interested in them, which he was.
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on 30 September 2013
stated before that she is extremely good and the stories gripping. This makes you want to investigate the history further.
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on 20 December 2014
I love these books I hope to get all the rest on kindle
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on 29 June 2015
Excellant
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on 6 May 2015
Excellent
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on 14 October 2014
Good
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