England, September 1642.
The King has raised his standard in Nottingham to summon those loyal to the crown to fight for him against his own Parliament.
Gideon Lennox, an idealistic young lawyer from London, is in County Durham being paid to find a man and deliver a message. Having failed in the task that originally brought him north, Gideon needs to prove himself. The man he seeks is the traitor Philip Lord, a notorious mercenary commander, with a reputation for brutality gained in the wars raging across Europe. When Gideon encounters Lord, he is abducted and set to investigate strange happenings in a Weardale village.
As he attempts to uncover the truth behind accusations of witchcraft – and the murder of the witchfinder in Pethridge – the lawyer is faced with more questions than answers. He is convinced that Lord must somehow be involved until a gory discovery proves to him that whoever might be behind the strange events, it is not the accused women – or Lord.
Just as Gideon begins to realise that more than one shadowy hand is moving the pieces in the dangerous game being played out in Pethridge, he is seized and accused of the murder himself. The lawyer must somehow escape – or become a victim of the conspiracy he needs to bring to light.
The English Civil War was so chaotic it must have been extremely difficult to sort out friends from enemies—especially when dealing with professional soldiers. The disruption also encouraged stretching the definition of law and order, aptly called wild justice in this book. Our protagonist, Gideon, a knowledgeable but unsophisticated lawyer from London, was sent on an essentially suicide mission (though he didn’t know it) in search of the elusive and dangerous Philip Lord. He found him, all right, and his mission would have been a short one except that Lord rescued him from an ambush and brought him to the outlaw’s secret hideout. No explanation was given for this mysterious rescue, and Lord even offered to let Gideon go, but for some reason the lawyer decided to stay. (Maybe it had something to do with the lovely and exotic Zahara, who had a puzzling relationship with Lord.) Thus began a like/hate relationship between Gideon and Lord, where our hero discovers the degrading side of warfare, where women are accused of witchcraft and the poor are taken advantage of. What is Lord’s role in all this? Gideon is completely baffled:
Gideon looked the other man full in the face.
“Fanthorpe was killed last night. Murdered.”
Whatever reaction he might have expected it wasn’t the one he got.
“Murdered?” Lord echoed the word, at the same time filling it with delight. Then he laughed as if Gideon had made the best joke. “Someone murdered the murderers’ crow? Now that is a sweet irony. But who? Who might it be? Oh. You think it was me.” That made him laugh even harder and Gideon felt his anger slip its leash.
And that, in a nutshell, is Gideon throughout the book. His bad temper is always barely under control, and he constantly misinterprets clues. Because he wants to think the worst of Lord, he ignores the fact that all the others in Lord’s band of mercenaries seem to worship him, though it’s all obvious to the reader. Gideon’s obtuseness becomes tiresome, but the intriguing story kept me reading and I’m glad I did. This is the first in a series, and it looks like moving forward, our protagonist will come to terms with his relationships and relieve us of his irritability.
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