The Noble Outlaw by Bernard Knight

The Noble Outlaw by Bernard Knight.  Someone is killing prominent guild leaders within Exeter in this the eleventh novel in the Crowner John series.  Is the villain the notorious Nick o’ the Moor, a former Crusader unlawfully deprived of his manor by followers of Prince John while Nick was on Crusade?  Is it a conspiracy from another town trying to weaken the Exeter guilds for their own benefit?  Is it more personal; a vendetta against these men in particular?  Crowner John de Wolfe, one of the new coroners set up by King Richard upon his return from captivity in Germany, is responsible for the investigation.

By this point in a lengthy series, the main character has been sufficiently developed and so new volumes derive their merit from the supporting characters, the mystery plot itself and the new characters introduced for the specific story.  In this case, the author presents Nicholas de Arundell, a Robin Hood-like character who is now leader of a small outlaw band hiding on the vast moors.  Knight shows the grim reality for outlaws at the end of the 12th century rather than the romanticized life portrayed by Hollywood.  Struggling to find food and shelter, constantly keeping watch for the law, and unable to seek justice in the court system, it’s a difficult life.  Matilda, the crowner’s usually irascible wife, is much more prominent in this story compared to previous ones.  Her softer side comes into play as she unknowingly befriends the wife of the outlaw and later pushes her husband to work on the couple’s behalf.  The killing of the guildsmen is a nice parallel plotline, though it lacks a suspenseful revelation at the end.  This is another consistent effort from Knight for the followers of the Crowner John series.

Readers interested in other mysteries set in England during the reign of King Richard should try Sharon Kay Penman’s Justin de Quincy series or Alys Clare’s Hawkenlye Abbey series.  Michael Jecks’ Sir Baldwin Furnshill series is also set the county of Devon, though more than a century later in the early 1300s.

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