First Sentence: Pit or Punishment: Hugo Stanton couldn't tell which excited the folk of these hot, crammed streets more.
With traveling courts established by Henry II having more than enough to handle, the justices send court clerk Aelred Barling, and his young assistant Hugo Stanton, to a village outside York. Although there were no witnesses, Nicholas Lindley has been imprisoned for the murder of the village smith. The case seems certain, yet Stanton has his doubts. The prisoner escapes, more deaths occur, and the two men are tasked with quelling the villagers, dealing with the lord of the manor, and finding the killer.
To Powell's credit, no attempt to pretty-up the period has been made. Justice is anything but just and the streets are beyond foul. However, it is interesting to see the early stages of the justice system.
All the characters have dimension and distinct personalities, pleasant and unpleasant. Barling is the type of character one likes more as the story progresses. He is pragmatic—"To dwell on an error is never of benefit."—focused on the details and dedicated to his role and responsibility. Stanton is observant and deductive. There is very nice, subtle humor—"And well done, Stanton: a good evening's work.' But he could believe the next. 'Good,' continued Barling, 'for one who is so new to learning how to exercise their wits.' The clerk carried on to his solar. Stanton mouthed a favourite word at Barling's retreating back. And for one who was supposedly limited in his wits, it was a fine, fine choice." Powell does a good job of building the respect and the relationship which develops between the two men. It's nice to know there will be more books in this series as watching the partnership grow will be interesting.
There is a very good twist and the introduction of danger to the protagonists, as well as a sad event. The story has something of "Midsomer Murders" feel about it, except the number of murders surpasses that series usual three. One does start to wonder whether anyone will be left alive in the village, although it does raise the stakes as to who the murderer could be. Although revelation by exposition may not be a preferred style, it works in this instance and the killer is unexpected.
One criticism is that the Cast of Characters is at the end of the book rather than the beginning where it would have been more useful. However, the Historical Note is fascinating and well worth taking the time to read.
"The King's Justice" is much more than it appears when one first starts. Besides being a very good mystery, this is definitely a book for those who enjoy historicals.
THE KING'S JUSTICE (Hist Mys-Stanton/Barling-England-1176) - VG
Powell, E.M. – 1st in seriesThomas & Mercer – June 2018