The Colour of Poison is the first in the Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery series by Toni Mount, and if the others are even so much as half as good as this first one I’ll be snatching them all up as soon as they go into print.
This story revolves around the Foxley brothers, Jude and Sebastian. Jude is a healthy young man and a scribe, while Sebastion is a frail “crouchback” with a gift for illustration, illumination, and painting. Jude is accused of murder, and it is up to Sebastian – with the help of some unexpected friends – to clear his brother’s name before the day if reckoning arrives. As the book’s blurb says:
The narrow, stinking streets of medieval London can sometimes be a dark place. Burglary, arson, kidnapping and murder are every-day events. The streets even echo with rumours of the mysterious art of alchemy being used to make gold for the King. Join Seb, a talented but crippled artist, as he is drawn into a web of lies to save his handsome brother from the hangman’s rope. Will he find an inner strength in these, the darkest of times, or will events outside his control overwhelm him? Only one thing is certain – if Seb can’t save his brother, nobody can.
In this tale, unlike the standard form of genre, the murderer isn’t hard to discover but getting the proof that will free Jude Foxley is nigh to impossible. Mount positively torments the reader, with the will-he-won’t-he race to the executioner. Innocent men were hanged often, because the king’s justice demanded the appearance of retribution … if not the substance. You won’t find out until the bitter end if Seb Foxley must continue on alone, or if his brother will retain his mortal coil.
Moreover, there are wheels within wheels occurring during Seb’s quest to free Jude. Not everyone wants a scapegoat to go free … a murder can hide a multitude of other sins.
Regardless of how good the nail-biting storyline is, the plot is not the best part of the novel. The story is dwarfed by the wealth of the historical reality Mount uses as the base of her work. It is the CONTEXT that makes this book a true gem. Toni Mount is already well-known among history buffs, scholars, and aficionados of the medieval period for her outstanding non-fiction works on the daily life and medical beliefs of this era. She uses this encyclopedic familiarity of 15th century life in London to craft a setting as believable as it is detailed.
In fact, my one criticism (if it can be called that) that the book is almost TOO good at historical recreation. The prose does not spare the reader by glossing over some unpalatable minutiae. This was not a “nice” time to be alive. Life was hard, brutish, often short, and filled with civic chaos the modern reader associates with despotic regimes in the so-called 3rd world. The reader is sometimes jarred by the savagery and must put the book down to get some relief in present day comforts.
However, my yen to find out if Seb will be able to save his brother or not was always strong enough that it was never long before I took a deep breath and plunged back into the Medieval world and the travails of the Foxley brothers.
This weekend the kindle edition of The Colour of Poison (which can be read on your computer or tablet) is on sale for $.99 so this is an excellent time to add a medieval mystery to your ebook collection!