Blood Lance, by Jeri Westerson (Minotaur):
I’ve found Westerson’s series of “medieval noir” novels to be quite a revelation. When I sat down with the first installment, Veil of Lies (2008), I figured it would be diverting enough as historical fiction, but nothing more. I was mistaken. California author Westerson has combined in these books not only sharply drawn portrayals of 14th-century London and the quotidian practices that make it appear so alien today, but also generous helpings of humor and cinematic derring-do. In the brand-new, fifth entry, Blood Lance, we find disgraced former knight-turned-“tracker” Crispin Guest making his way home on a moonlight October eve, when he suddenly sees a man--an armorer, it turns out--plummet to his death from the heights of London Bridge. A suicide? Crispin has his doubts, which are only exacerbated when he hears that the armorer may have been in possession of the Spear of Longinus, a weapon that allegedly pierced Christ’s side as he hung on the cross and is now supposed to bring its owner invincibility. With aid from his friend Geoffrey Chaucer (yes, that Geoffrey Chaucer), the sometimes too-trusting ex-knight goes hunting for the spear, trying in the meantime to avoid becoming involved in the many poisonous rivalries within King Richard’s court. I’ve come to enjoy Crispin’s regular swordplay and markedly dated exclamations (“God’s blood!”), as well as the political intrigues that author Westerson winds around him and his young apprentice, Jack Tucker. This series is just the thing for readers who crave a bit of chivalry with their sleuthing.
* * *Also being released this week is Jimmy the Stick (Mysterious Press/Open Road), the first novel by film critic Michael Mayo. It’s set in 1932, the year that renowned aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son was snatched from his New Jersey home, and it stars a once-prominent gunman and bootlegger, Jimmy Quinn, who, after being injured by a bullet, has retired to the comparatively safe life of a Manhattan speakeasy owner. That retirement, though, is interrupted by Jimmy’s quondam crony Walter Spencer, who has married into money and gone legit, and now wants Jimmy to safeguard his family in Jersey from threats resembling those that’ve thrust the Lindberghs into the national news. Jimmy thinks guarding his friend’s attractive wife can’t be too onerous a task. But he didn’t anticipate that his own sordid past would finally catch up to him in the Garden State’s ’burbs.