I have a habit of buying 3 paperbacks for £5 from The Works (bargain bookshop chain in the UK) and never quite getting around to reading them so I'm feeling quite pleased with myself that I'd only had The Ravens of Blackwater for around a month before I picked it up last night. I don't quite know why I'm so bad at reading these books - maybe because they're impulse bargain buys rather than something I've been really excited about - and then the more exciting (to me) book comes along, or something that I've promised to write about needs reading.
Edward Marston's books are not quite what I'd normally pick up either (Georgette Heyer is my historical fiction exception), but I was intrigued by this series after seeing it around in a couple of places and it turned out to be easy to read in the course of an evening which is something I haven't managed with a book of this length for ages, so if the works have more of his titles in stock I'll be picking them up today.
It is sometime late in the 11th century, the Domesday book is being compiled and Ralph Delchard (a veteran of the Battle of Hastings) and Gervase Bret (lawyer) are part of the royal commission sent out to investigate peculiarities in the originally compiled information, handily solving murders as they go. This is the second in the series but worked well as a standalone book.
Marston is good at painting a broad picture of life in early Norman England without getting bogged down in tiresome detail, and his royal commission concept is excellent for moving his detectives around from one place to another where something is clearly wrong. The characters were appealing - the villainous FitzCorbucion family headed by the outrageously evil Hamo FitzCorbucion and seconded by his son Guy (soon murdered) were particularly gruesome, and yet still believable. Ralph and Gervase engage in a constant friendly bickering that builds a happy chemistry between them, and the secondary characters are well drawn too.
The internet tells me Marston has written over a hundred books (impressive) and I think what really comes across here is his craftsmanship. Everything is done well, and if it didn't demand much depth of thought from me, I wasn't in the mood for that. By the same token, I didn't feel like I was reading something particularly throw away either, so if you're looking for something fun to fill this current run of cold, grey, days and lengthening nights you could do a whole lot worse than pick this up.