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Cruel as the Grave, by Sharon Kay Penman

Thanks to my New Year’s resolution, I am finding more time to read, so now it’s time to work on finding time to write!  I am starting by catching up on a backlog of posts I have been meaning to write since 2013.  We’ll start with my favorite genre: mystery!

Cruel as the Grave is the second book in a series of historical mysteries by Sharon Kay Penman.  It’s an enjoyable read, perfect for a long day of travelling.  (I may have devoured the entire thing during a long flight…)  After reading it, I am eager to read the first book, The Queen’s Man, as well.  The books are set during the Crusades, while Richard the Lionheart was in prison, his brother Prince John was trying to take the throne of England, and their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was trying to stop him.  Such a turbulent time makes an excellent backdrop for intrigue (and murder mysteries) and Sharon Kay Penman has done a beautiful job of infusing her books with a real sense of the time period.

The main character in the series, Justin de Quincy, has been compared to James Bond.  He is known to the English court as the “queen’s man”-meaning he works for the Dowager Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  De Quincy is an outsider at court, raised in a noble household, but not a nobleman himself.  As a result, he is able to move between two worlds: the royal court and working class London.  In this book, he struggles to balance their conflicting demands as he works to negotiate a peace between Queen Eleanor and her rebellious son, John, while trying to find the killer of a Welsh peddler’s daughter.

I give this book four stars.  I am looking forward to reading more of the series.  It was a quick, engaging read, so I would recommend it to anyone who would like to have some mysteries on their  reading list.  If you prefer historical fiction, Sharon Kay Penman writes those too-check out The Sunne in Splendor for a really great novel about Richard III! ★★★★



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