Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Hawks of Delamare - Edward Marston

I'm kind of fascinated by how much I like this series of books and why their particular formula works so well for me. In theory, I wouldn't have it down as something I'd enjoy so thoroughly - there's not much in the way of the characterisation that normally makes a book come alive for me. The plot for each book is more or less the same in so far as someone is murdered just before Ralph and Gervaise turn up with their commission. They work out who did it, avert disaster - twice now in the form of the Welsh, wrap up the land disputes and move on.

The crimes are somewhat brutal, but not overly described so even someone as squeamish as I am can happily cope with them. Characters are deftly drawn and the fact that they're mostly just sketched in is surprisingly effective. A lot of the Norman barons seem to be a thoroughly bad lot, but both history and a childhood love of Robin Hood make that easy enough to believe. Formula aside, Marston manages to create a real sense of lawless threat with some of his characters - or perhaps the sense that they can genuinely operate above the law simply on the basis of military strength.

This book has one of the few obvious mistakes that I've come across - or at least I assume it's a mistake that a character who essentially commits suicide gets a Christian burial - but I may be wrong to think they wouldn't at this point.

As I started my 4th Domesday book a couple of nights ago (The Wildcats of Exeter) and then regretfully put it aside for more pressing things (I'm reading an excellent book at the moment, but it covers some difficult ground including a harrowing description of an attempt at home abortion and subsequent miscarriage) I realise that a significant part of its appeal is in the certainty about what I'm getting.

Marston clearly knows what his readers like, and he sets out to provide it for them. In my case, that's a mystery where more or less everybody behaves the way I've come to expect, occasional jokes that will make me laugh, villains to properly dislike, heroes that are neither complex nor tortured, and a book that keeps me happily turning the pages when I'm too tired to be much good for anything else until I'm ready to sleep.

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