Friday, June 19, 2009

A Deadly Brew by Susanna Gregory

I have discovered that most mystery readers have sub-genres that pique their interest. There are:
  • historical mysteries
  • cooking mysteries
  • hardboiled crime novels
  • vampire mysteries...
to name but a few. I read a variety of types but am always on the lookout for a good academic mystery. There are a handful of good series based on the workings of academia. For the most part I have focused on contemporary academia, but a friend introduced me to Susanna Gregory's Matthew Bartholomew books. The stories take place in a fourteenth-century English university and the main characters are the lay Brothers who teach there.

Gregory's fourth book in this medieval series recreates an extremely realistic world through her use of visceral imagery about life in pre-modern England. After reading the book I'm really, really glad that I live in the modern world. Brothers Matthew and Michael spend much of the book hungry, cold, and wet: and they are relatively privileged characters. Gregory's research about life in this era demonstrates an eye for detail and a focus on accuracy about an era which is harder to recreate than a more modern one (eh, maybe that's debatable - a more well-researched contemporary era assumes a greater attention to accuracy. Anyway...).

The plot of the novel is intricate and woven together with cunning examples. It revolves around poisoned wine which has killed a handful of academics at the university where Matthew is a physician. The many interconnected plot points necessary to unravel all of the storylines effectively create a nuanced story. Gregory convincingly weaves together the seemingly unconnected events to create a good book.

I have two minor sticking points with A Deadly Brew. The first is both the failure and the success of a good mystery series. Not having read the previous books in the series, I found myself annoyed from time to time when she continually referred to events that had happened in other books. It's nice that her stories are laced together and it made me want to read more. However, at times I did wish that she did not feel it necessary to refer back to other works.

The second might be a stylistic choice of Gregory's (I'll need to read more to be say for certain.) Unlike some authors who uncover the murderer and then write, The End, Gregory solved most of the mystery with 100 pages left in the book. She continued to unravel more of the story in the remaining pages, but I found myself losing interest once I knew who had poisoned the wine and why.

All in all, a good discovery. I will keep my eyes open for further Susanna Gregory mysteries.


chriskape said...

If you are into dark novels, with adept psychological twists, full of the unexpected, and dealing with the faustian notion, you should really try mine, "A Diary of Wasted Years," just published by Eloquent Books. Comes to grab you by the throat but definitely worth it. I welcome any potential reader to check it out, and hopefully you'll enjoy it. Even if not, you can always share your comments.

A Gwen Nelson said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I don't read dark books that often, but I will include it on my to-read list.