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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: The Pendragon Murders

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Author: J.M.C. Blair

Copyright: February, 2010 (Berkley); 320 pgs.

Series: #3 in A Merlin Investigation

Sensuality: Many references and nudity

Mystery sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Merlin, of Arthurian legend

Setting: Medieval England

Obtained book through: Publisher for an honest review

I was really looking forward to this book.  I enjoy the Camelot and Merlin tales.  I loved Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment).  So to have Merlin as an amateur sleuth was an appealing concept to me.

Plague has been brought to England via merchant ships.  Merlin and his two aids, Nimue and Petronus, are in the port town of Dover for the autumn market festival.  Merlin is first on the scene and identifies it as the plague.  They hurry back to Camelot to be a nerve center and try to be a communications hub for news of the spread of the plague.  But on the way  back they come across a Baron brutally murdered at Stonehenge.  Then a death occurs at Camelot seeming to be the plague, but Merlin isn't convinced.  Could somebody be killing off contenders for the thrown by mimicing the plague?  Merlin grows more suspicious as the body count rises.

The following quote is at Stonehenge with Morgan about to perform a ceremony.
The torches still shone brightly in the half-light.  Glowing patterns danced on the monument's stones as the procession moved in to the heart of the monument.  The clouds overhead closed up again; the sun, which they were there to celebrate, was lost completely behind them.

Then suddenly, abruptly, all forward motion halted.  The people at the front of the march broke ranks and began to mill about in the most disorganized manner.  There were shouts.  The music petered out and stopped.

Morgan bellowed, "What is the problem up there?  Why have you all stopped?"  She turned to Mordred and told him to run ahead and see what the problem was.

Merlin took his two young companions each by the hand.  "Let us go and see."

The orderly procession was quickly dissolving into a disorganized mob.  But Merlin was determined to enter the monument and see what the problem was.  He, Nimue and Petronus forced their way through the throng just behind Mordred.

Inside the stone circle, Mordred stopped and seemed to freeze.  Merlin pushed past him.
The horseshoe of trilithons loomed around them, each formed by a pair of massive stone uprights topped by a stone lintel.  The space at the center was empty of people; they were backing away. 

Then he saw what was alarming them.  Lashed to the altar at the monument's center were three men.  One was prone on the top of the stone; the other two were lashed securely to its sides.  A web of leather thogns held them in place. 

The throat of each man was slashed.  The altar stone and the earth around it were covered in dried blood.

And then he recognized them.  "In the name of everything human."  The dead men were Lord Darrowfield and his sons.
The book leaves much in the way of period language completely out which was a bit jarring. Even more jarring are the modern concepts of how disease spreads that Merlin embraces.  Merlin has a reputation as a wizard that he hates.  He is portrayed as a scholar and an early physician who hates all forms of superstition. He is flippant, arthritic, cranky and has a really cynical view of the world and of human nature.  Merlin's cynical outlook is perhaps why this seems to be a bit darker book than I was anticipating.

Merlin's aid Nimue is a rather liberated and free thinking woman for the time period which is really out of place.  Out of all the characters she has some potential but was only a minor player in this book.  I hope she gets more attention in other books in the series.
Arthur seems to be two different people, one self absorbed who won't listen to wise council and the other a statesman adept at the middle road.  It was hard to warm up to this portrayal of Arthur.
Morgan, Arthur's notorious sister and high priestess to the ancient Goddess belief system (remember Avalon?) is practically a cliche always wearing flowing black gowns.  The other priestess in the tale is also all in black.   Morgan is naturally portrayed as conniving and always plotting against Arthur yet for such a role she is rather cardboard.
As for the murderer, it isn't hard to figure out with a process of elimination for who had opportunity in each case inspite of litering the playing field with several suspects.  There seemed to be an entire chapter whose events don't justify being included. 
If you typically don't like medieval stories because of the difficult language this might be a book for you.  If you are an avid Camelot fan, this may not live up to expectations.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ A little something extra for you ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Pecan Pumpkin Crumble
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 eggs1
16 oz can (2 cups) pumpkin
1 12 oz can evaporated milk
1 box yellow or white plus cake mix
1 cup melted butter
¾ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°. In large bowl combine sugar, spice, eggs, pumpkin and milk; blend well.
Pour into ungreased 13 X 9 pan.
Sprinkle with dry cake mix.
Drizzle evenly with melted butter until top is covered.
Sprinkle with chopped pecans.
Bake at 350° 40-50 minutes or until golden brown.
Refrigerate until chilled. Cut into squares.

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