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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What I'm Reading: Veil of Lies

Recently I read Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson.  This is the first book in her Medieval Noir series.  So how did I find this back lists title?  As I was reading reviews this fall, I came upon a starred review of The Demon's Parchment which mentioned that it was the third in this series.  I was very intrigued by the review, and checked to see if we had the first two here at the BPL.  We did and this first book was available.

At first, I grabbed Veil of Lies thinking I would just skim it, but I was soon captivated by the combination of the convincing Medieval setting mixed with the modern hard-boiled narration. The juxtaposition was intriguing and fun.

Before I go further, I think I need to talk a bit about the terms "hard-boiled" and "noir" as they pertain to mystery novels. These terms are thrown around frequently and casually, but I know that readers are not always quite sure of what they mean.  So before I begin, let me clarify.  "Noir" is a subset of "hard-boiled" where there the investigator is not a detective; there is also usually a higher level of sex in noir.  However, despite the "Medieval Noir" series name, Westerson's book was definitely more traditionally hardboiled.

Harboiled as defined on Wikipedia:
The term comes from a colloquial phrase of understatement. For an egg, to be hardboiled is to be comparatively tough. The hardboiled detective—originated by Daly's Terry Mack and Race Williams and epitomized by Hammett's Sam Spade and Chandler's Philip Marlowe—not only solves mysteries, like his "softer" counterparts, he (and often these days, she) confronts danger and engages in violence on a regular basis. The hardboiled detective also has a characteristically tough attitude—in fact, Spade and Marlowe are two of the primary fictional models for the attitude that has come to be known as "attitude": cool, cocky, flippant
This definition describes Veil of Lies and our narrator, PI Crispin Guest perfectly.  It is 1384 and Crispin is a PI in London, but it is before there is an official job of PI, so he is known as a "tracker."  The further interesting twist here is that Crispin has a history.  Like all good hard-boiled detectives, Crispin is down on his luck.  Really down, but really tough.  Turns out, Crispin used to be a knight, but due to a political shift and a charge of treason  he was stripped of his title.  In 1384, the lives of the rich vs the common man in England were widely different.

Watching Crispin deal with his personal problems is a huge appeal here.  Crispin is constantly dealing with the fact that he is a commoner but does not see himself as one.  Much of the conflict here deals with this internal conflict raging in Crispin and its outward manifestations. 

The crime is complicated but it involves a wife who is not all that she seems, a murder, and foreign influence. The mystery is good, but it is the characters, the setting, and the historical period details that are great here.  If you want to spend a few hours immersed in this time period, Veil of Lies is a good choice.

As mentioned above, there is violence and sex here.  Crispin is flawed.  That is what makes him so interesting to me, but may bother other readers.  Some modern readers may also be put off by the strict class structure of the time period.   The secondary characters such as the sheriff, Crispin's friends at the local pub, and his contacts are all great here too.

Basically, if you like character-centered mysteries with an interesting setting try Veil of Lies.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Hard-boiled, Medieval, Character-Centered

Readalikes: For more hard-boiled options here are a few lists and resources I compiled:

For fans of both mysteries and the time period I would suggest Melvin Starr's  Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon series or Ariana Franklin's Mistress in the Art of Death series.

For Mystery fans try this Medieval Mystery Index
For Medieval fans in general try this resource:  The Medieval Chronicle (includes nonfiction)

As I mentioned before I liked Crispin, but the specific time period is not imperative, I simply enjoy an interesting historical frame.  For people with this appeal, I would also suggest the Maisie Dobbs series by Jaqueline Winspear.


Jeri Westerson said...

Thanks so much for the review. Veil of Lies was also a Library Journal starred review, it was editor's choice with Historical Novel Review, and both Veil of Lies and Serpent in the Thorns have been shortlisted for several mystery awards, including the Shamus and Macavity awards. The Demon's Parchment was a Top Pick in Romantic Times Magazine and it wasn't out a month before it was nominated for the RT Reveiwers' Choice Award.

If your library patrons are interested, I can meet with their book groups by phone or Skype. I have book discussion guides on my website www.JeriWesterson.com

Thanks for reading!

Becky said...

I will pass your willingness to participate in a discussion on to my staff. We are considering starting a mystery book discussion group in the spring or summer and having the author of the book available would be a good draw.