Written by Anthony Hays — The mists of time roll back in Anthony Hays’ debut novel, sweeping us into the 5th century, and a place where myth and history collide. We’re transported to a war-ravaged Britain where violence and death are commonplace. The legendary Arthur Pendragon is yet to be crowned and establish his kingdom at Camelot, and our one-armed sleuth, Malgwyn ap Cuneglas, is about to embark on his first mystery.
Written in the first person, the story is related to us by the now aged Malgwyn, an ex-soldier in Arthur’s army who is charged with investigating the brutal murder of a young woman – Eleonore – whose mutilated body has been discovered outside Merlin’s hut. Suspicion quickly falls on the old wizard, whose guilt seem to be confirmed when the girl’s missing heart is found wrapped inside a cloth inside his home. However, Malgwyn is not entirely convinced and sets out to uncover the truth. The questions are: who would want Merlin accused of this death, and why?
The backdrop of the story is the impending election of a new Rigotamos – High King – and Arthur is at the top of the shortlist. With no clear motive for the killing, Malgwyn is left pondering whether Eleonore’s death was simply the result of a slighted admirer or the possibility that there is a deeper more political motivation, intending to harm Arthur’s claim to the throne.
Some will come to an Arthurian mystery expecting fantasy and magic, but Anthony Hays posits that Arthur existed in the real world, using the legendary king’s realm as a setting for his crime fiction. In some respects Malgwyn ap Cuneglas reminded me of Candace Robb’s protagonist, Owen Archer. He is a battle weary-soldier, with what should be a crippling injury. There is a certain degree of cynicism about his personality, but at the same time his experiences enable him to build up sound judgment and this is why he has been chosen for the task at hand. His investigation is methodical and with each thought process the reader is given the reasoning behind any conclusion reached. At first it seems as though Malgwyn, who is ably assisted by the future Sir Kay, is moving quite slowly in his enquiries. With little information to go on initially, it’s not until a second woman is found butchered that the investigation really begins to pick up pace.
This is a story full of treachery and intrigue that will keep you guessing until the end. Whether you’re a fan of historical crime or Arthurian legend, you’ll find yourself entertained. This book was first published by Forge in the US, but has made its way to UK readers via Corvus who are launching the up and coming author’s work over here.
CFL Rating: 4 stars