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on 1 February 2003
When I first read this book, I was amazed to see it belonged in the child's fiction catagory. Although the writing style is simple enough for children, some of the nuances of the story may be beyond them, and it is this that helps older readers enjoy it also.
Starting in a French castle, the story leaps almost immediately into the plot of this, and the coming series of books. Our hero, Joslin de Lay, finds himself on an epic quest, but finds many problems on the way, the first of which he encounters after landing himself in the south east of England.
The many characters that Joslin meets are some of the books finer points. Each one, with their little idiosyncrasies, play an important part in this, and the following books, and even small parts may turn out to be of great importance.
I really enjoyed this book, especially during some of the later, heart pounding scenes. If any book can make you confused and frightened at one time, this is it.
Any fans of crime or horror fiction will love this book, and the following books in this series of six.
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on 12 April 2012
I don't suppose I'm the only lover of historical fiction and murder mysteries to feel excited when I discover a new series. I loved Cadfael and Dorothy Dunnet and CJ Sansom's Tudor mysteries (except when they got too long. This story begins in France with confusion menace and danger. A father dies and the son, Joslin, a talented minstrel escapes to England. He finds himself in Suffolk in the aftermath of plague. There is fascinating detail about the painting of a 'doom' in the local church but I'm not going to say more because this is the start of a journey that even Joslin does not understand. The Joslin de Lay series may have been written with children in mind but the complex plot, sense of menace and overarching mystery will work for readers of any age. I'm looking forward to all five volumes.
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on 28 May 2014
Reminiscent of Umberto Eco’s "The Name of the Rose", "Of Dooms and Death" – the first book in Hamley’s series "The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay" – evokes a mediaeval world of poverty, privilege and intense religious feeling. Like all good historical fiction, it does more than bring a particular historical period to mind; it makes it real, immediate, and even familiar. When the period in question is as distant in time and mindset from our own as the Middle Ages, this is no mean feat.

Joslin de Lay is a young minstrel who, following his father’s death, travels from his native France to England. Prior to his death, his father urged him to travel to Wales on a personal quest (the “long journey” of the series title). Joslin’s ship, however, docks in Eastern England, leaving him with a long way still to go. Making his way inland, Joslin takes refuge in an abandoned plague village near the small town of Stovenham, which makes him an easy target for the superstitious horror of the townsfolk – that, and the fact that he is a Frenchman, and therefore from a country at war with England.

Unsurprisingly, when a series of murders begin in the town Joslin soon finds himself being cast as the prime suspect. Finding the murderer becomes a matter of urgency, and not simply in order for Joslin to clear his name – he soon realises that he may be the next victim. The tension builds steadily, relentlessly, as Joslin and his allies find themselves pitted against an assassin who “works unseen and invisible ... Truly like the serpent at noonday.”

Hamley brings his characters to life beautifully, presenting them as people not, in essence, so very different to us, however unfamiliar their society and culture. They speak in modern English – a good stylistic choice, making their speech not just easy to follow for the modern reader but a vital, living language. (As Hamley points out in the Afterword, the characters would have been speaking modern English by their own lights.) There is a parallel with our own time, too: this is a society where people, enervated by war and sickness, are questioning the system and the ties of tradition. “There’s two laws in the world,” says one character, “God’s and the King’s ... and people are as deserving, whether king or churl.”

A fast-paced mediaeval thriller, "Of Dooms and Death" is both an immensely satisfying read in its own right, and a captivating introduction to the Joslin de Lay series.
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on 5 September 2013
Historical crime fiction is an enjoyable genre, and I've relished this time-travel into medieval times as previously I've enjoyed the worlds of Cadfael, Falco and Shardlake. Dennis Hamley has created a series of splendid historical crime novels set in medieval times - truly 'another country' yet the people in them are recognisable and vivid. As are the risks they face in those dangerous times when life was doubly precious because so threatened. Death was a familiar figure to all - but even so, murder was still a serious matter. This book introduces us to his protagonist Joslin de Lay, a minstrel from France on a quest in the British Isles - an excellent choice of sleuth, with a reason to be on the move, freedom to travel, lots of opportunity to discover foul plots, and what's more he's the classic outsider, a French lad in an England smarting from war with France. His on-going quest, given him by his dying father, will drive the series, but here he stumbles into his first murder mystery. Why would a minstrel solve murders? Best reason in the world - anything bad that happens in a small village, he'll get the blame as a foreigner and newcomer, and they don't hang about before hanging, in those parts! The murders seem to be linked to a church wall painting - a 'Doom' in the old sense of judgement - in which the faces seem to be of real people who are doomed in the modern sense... the painting theme reminded me of lovely J L Carr's 'A month in the country' which also features one of these small church murals. Hamley uses his impressive knowledge of the past lightly and with aplomb, and doesn't dodge the harsh realities of medieval life - bad things happen, and sometimes to good people, in a series of cliffhangers which keep us in suspense. Joslin makes friends and enemies, and relationships are key to his lonely existence. There are strong female characters, as there were in reality, despite the appallingly sexist laws and customs of the age. These books are advertised as young adult or children's books, but all ages can enjoy these well-constructed crime novels set in a dangerous, yet exciting world full of adventure and possibility.
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on 22 May 2012
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read!, May 16, 2012
By Christopher Wiseman (Calgary, Alberta) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Of Dooms and Death (The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay) (Kindle Edition)
The Joslyn de Lay novels by Dennis Hamley are a real treat and I can't get enough of them. Set in the 1360s, they invoke a tense, disease-ridden, and shaky society which the author re-creates in loving and glancing detail as the protagonist faces his problems head-on. And Joslin's problems are not minor ones. Always moving westward, from France through England, heading for answers he must find in Wales, he encounters treachery, murder, ill-spitited people seemingly out to stop him finding out the truths and answers he desperately needs to understand his life. But, more than that, Joslin comes face to face with evil, and this novel, like the others in this marvellous series, broadens out until we have both a classic quest tale, with all odds stacked against success, and a wide battle, which draws us inexorably into it, between good and evil. Joslin becomes, quietly but persuasively, our everyman, trying to save us from forces of the devil himself. This is an astonishing series, worthy of being put up with the Caedfael books, and the books are exciting, provocative, beautifully written and the product of an author whose many other books demonstrate a keen intelligence and, above all, a deep capacity for emotion. Kids will love the cliff-hanging adventure. Adults will respond to the way the protagonist becomes the hope of the world and someone who must stand firm in order to protect civilsation from the chaos of evil. VERY strongly recommended indeed.
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on 1 February 2012
Set in England of the 1300's, if you can imagine a kind of junior Cadfael - but featuring a minstrel rather than a monk - you won't be far wrong. It starts off a little slowly, but hang in there, as once Joslin actually sets foot in England the pace picks up nicely and continues at a good clip. There are a few unexpected plot twists at the end, but I won't spoil it for you - read it and discover them for yourself. Be warned that there are a few gruesome moments too, although nothing is unduly dwelt on: this is the equivalent of a family film - a book which the whole family can pass around to read and enjoy. I'm now looking forward to reading the next in the series!
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