The Moneylender of Toulouse

The Moneylender of Toulouse by Alan Gordon. Some authors of long series disappoint their loyal readers by becoming formulaic or not fully developing their characters, whereas others continue to delight their fans by constantly keeping them in suspense as to what will happen next. Gordon definitely falls into the latter group with his Fool’s Guild mysteries featuring Theophilos and his family of jesters. The Fool’s Guild is a secret organization of performers whose goal is promote world peace by using their presence at courts throughout Europe to subtly influence the nobility. Their mandate often puts them at odds with the Roman Catholic Church, as is the case in this story in which Theophilos is sent to Toulouse to replace the recently deceased Chief Fool of the city, oust the incumbent bishop and replace him with one already selected by the Guild (see “The Lark’s Lament”). Upon arrival just before Christmas 1204 with his wife Claudia, his toddler Portia and his apprentice Helga, he finds the city divided by a power struggle enveloping the bishop, the count, the Benedictine monks, and the city’s merchants, led by the millers. When a prominent moneylender turns up dead, he discovers that the multi-layered personal, political, financial, and religious connections between members of each group lead to some surprising alliances and deadly jealousies. Theo must find a way to exploit these relationships and the murder in support of his mission.

In addition to the witty banter one would expect from a band of jesters, which make his tales less gritty than some of his fellow authors, Gordon keeps his stories fresh by having Theo and Claudia frequently move to new locales across Europe on assignments for the Guild. In Toulouse, they meet two long-time resident fools of the city: Pelardit, a tall mute with great skill for sleight of hand magic and facial expressions, and the rotund Jordan, who excels at physical comedy, but is bitter at being passed over for Chief Fool. Theo must gain their trust while assessing theirs as they merge their skills into one performing troupe. It will be interesting to see what the next book holds for Theo and family. Will they settle in Toulouse as expected so that he can take over as Chief Fool or will they be asked by the Guild to take to the road again? Will Helga ever earn her full fool status? Or will Theo regale them, and us, with an adventure tale from earlier in his career as he did in “The Widow of Jerusalem?”

Gordon seems like the type of guy you’d want to take down to the local pub and share bad puns with over a pint or two. Until that time comes, readers will just have to enjoy his books instead.

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