Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson. There is much to like in this debut historical mystery set in the reign of the boy king Richard II and yet it could still be better. Our hero, Crispin Guest, was once a knight before siding with wrong nobles eight years earlier after the Edward III’s death. His treasonous actions led to being degraded, stripped of his title and all his possessions. He now works as a Tracker, investigating problems and finding missing objects for his clients. The pay is miniscule and he lives in a single room above a tinker in London’s Shambles. This history allows the author to introduce a broad range of characters from all levels on England’s economic and social classes, from Guest’s former mentor, the Duke of Lancaster, to his current servant, Jack Tucker, an eleven-year-old orphan, beggar and thief (who bears not a passing similarity to Louis Bayard’s 1860s street urchin, Colin the Melodious, in Mr. Timothy). Jack and the Sheriff Simon Wynchecombe, who has an uneasy, yet profitable, relationship with Guest, are two worthwhile characters likely to reappear in future books. Yet Guest spends much of his time alone and unfortunately, readers are forced to listen to his internal dialogues about his fall from nobility and his subsequent thoughts about class rank.
Westerson’s mystery is complex with many twists and turns, but perhaps a few too many as she tries to include a foreign criminal syndicate, Saracens, imposters, long-forgotten relatives, a holy relic, secret passageways, a beautiful widow, and an evil Sherriff all in one story. This overabundance of plot points is a trap that many first-time authors fall into, but the writing process is difficult and getting that first book published even more so, as Westerson describes in detail on her very good blog (which has several interesting companion sections in support of the book). So readers may excuse an author trying to cram too much into one story in an effort to appeal to all audiences. Along those lines, there is the inevitable romance which comes into Crispin’s life. Until the very end, Westerson handles this well, but becomes a bit overdramatic at the end.
Her depiction of 1380s London as a dark city filled with dangerous citizens all of ranks and covered with a layer of soot and grime is quite vivid. However, she does have a tendency to be repetitive in some of her descriptions, such as the “ratlike” Lenny. Also, she mentions men’s hands on their daggers so many times I was tempted to turn it into a drinking game. I understand using the action to convey danger and tension, but if this was so common an occurrence, then it need not be mentioned.
These are minor quibbles and easily rectified or, if not, then to be tolerated in an otherwise good adventure. The series has promise and I look forward to Serpent in the Thorns, yet another “snake” title, next year.