2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Sticklepath Strangler (Medieval West Country Mysteries) (Paperback)
This was the first Jecks novel I'd come across after having it lent to me. It was a great introduction and I now can't wait to read the whole series! It was easy to read, the characters were well crafted, the dialogue believable with any anachronisms used sparingly and to good effect. The plot was superb. The revelation was a total surprise - rather unsettling. No-one in this novel is what they seem. All the twists and turns were remarkably well-handled, with several red herrings and lots of revelations associated with various characters.
It didn't bother me that there were a few small references to the book that preceded this one in the series. Although a murder was briefly mentioned there were no spoilers - if anything it's simply made me want to read it. There is clearly no need to read the series in order, the description of the main recurring characters are solid and realistic enough without needing to jump straight back to book 1.
Some reviewers were unhappy with some of the themes covered. True, the butchering of children and cannibalism aren't the nicest of topics, but the description of the bodies was not unnecessarily gruesome or disrepectful, and I felt that the consequences of the murders was dealt with well, especially the reactions of the villagers. In the 13th century people were genuinely god-fearing, and their belief would not let them contemplate the fact that 'one of them' could kill and eat children, so naturally they were convinced something supernatural would have to have been involved. Their system of 'justice' shown at the beginning of the story would surely have been a natural reaction true of the time, especially during famine, but barbaric and unfair to us today. Jecks has done his research very well and is well within in his rights to include a possible supernatural element - it sums up the panic felt by the people of the village, and yet the whole thing is kept grounded by the main characters firm disbelief, echoing no doubt the thoughts of the reader. However some of the spooky descriptions of the village are so convincing that you may well believe something unearthly really is going on.
My favourite aspect was the build up of tension - the dogs constant howling towards the end of the novel was a brilliant idea - as each character was getting affected and you wondered what each of their reasons were. At one point I even thought everyone was guilty and it was some sort of cannibal village! The way Jecks keeps you guessing at the real murderer/s? - no spoilers here - is that good.
I now want to read the whole thing again so I can see if there were any clues that I missed. This was truly one of the best murder mysteries I've ever read, regardless of the historical genre. Great sense of the era and place, great characters, brilliantly complex and well thought out plot. 10/10.