Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Green Man by Kate Sedley

Main Character: Roger the Chapman
Location: England and Scotland
Time period: 1482
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Historical
Series: Roger the Chapman #17

I am a big fan of historical mysteries, so when our library got the new Roger the Chapman book I had to take a break from YA Fantasy and put The Green Man at the top of my to-read pile.

Roger is a chapman, a traveling peddlar who sells sewing notions and ladies' finery--things that can fit confortably into a backpack. In earlier books in the series, he has also acted as a spy for Richard of Gloucester (who will before long become King Richard III.) In this book, he has been requested to act as a bodyguard for Alexander, Duke of Albany, the younger brother of Scotland's King James III. James is an unpopular king among the nobles and populace alike, and the English believe that if they can lead an army to Scotland and provoke James into battle they would have the chance to put Alexander on the throne. Alexander is afraid that someone among the English will try to kill him, or possibly one of his own retinue. He knows Roger from an earlier encounter and insists that Roger is the only one he can trust to protect him.

Ever since reading Josephine Tey's excellent book The Daughter of Time, I have been a firm believer that Richard III has been wronged by history (and particularly by Shakespeare.) One of the things that I like about this series is the portrayal of Richard as a amiable man--a shrewd tactician and able warrior, but a man with a sense of humor and a keen judge of people. So I experienced an unexpected chill when Roger overhears a conversation where Richard asks what Albany intends to do with his nephews when he attains the throne--foreshadowing the fate of the little princes in the tower.

Kate Sedley obviously knows her time period well, and includes enough social and political background to set the story firmly in its historical setting. It is the characters that keep me reading, not the mystery. We could actually have a book with no deaths at all and I would be perfectly content. I want to continue to see how Roger is affected (or indeed if he is affected) when Richard attains the throne, and again when Henry VII becomes king.

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