The King’s Justice is an intriguing and perplexing historical murder mystery based in England during King Henry II’s reign in 1176. Henry II is responsible for much of the current legal system in the UK, and introduced travelling Royal Justices to cover 6 geographical circuits in England, each circuit with 3 justices.
In the story, Sir Reginald Edgar arrives in York to meet the circuit court. He’s drunk, obnoxious, has no witnesses or jurors, and is seeking approval to execute a suspected murderer in his hometown of Claresham. With his tetchy arrogant behaviour, he is not granted his request but promised a clerk of the court to travel with him to Claresham to resolve the issue and administer the Kings Justice if necessary. The King’s Justice is a name given to a barbaric test to determine if a person is innocent or guilty. It is administered by tying a person’s hands to their ankles, thus doubling them in two, and then hung from the waist submerging them into a 12-foot pit full of water. If you drown you are innocent, and if you survive you are guilty and then you are hanged. The Witch Test it’s better known as. Nice choice!
Aeired Barling is the appointed clerk of the court, and through an unfortunate twist of fate, Hugo Stanton is selected as his assistant for the case (a messenger of the church). Both men have secret backgrounds that haunt them, and these are referred to but never explained in this novel (for another book). Barling is a religious, methodical and learned man that operates through well-defined plans. Stanton enjoys women and alcohol but has a sharp eye and a great ability to sense truth. As a lowly messenger, speaking up is not only frowned upon but punishable and to Stanton’s own detriment he often speaks up rather than see an injustice occur. I really liked these two believable but apparently incompatible characters that are wonderfully constructed. A mutual respect starts to develop and maybe opposites do attract! A team for the future?
Stanton suspects that the person they are holding in the jail is not the killer but before they can question him further, he escapes, and other murders occur. While it may look obvious for a while there are other characters that could be the murderer. The death toll mounts and the clever plotting has a great capacity to keep you guessing. There are numerous red-herrings and suspicions to add to the complexity and it’s all delivered in a very believable manner. This is an excellent suspense murder mystery where the pace is maintained from cover to cover.
What I really liked was that the historical nature of the novel wasn’t heavy and all-consuming, just because the author compiled hours and hours of research. The atmosphere and village life were very subtly interwoven with the story, which contributed to the overall experience of reading the novel and provided another element of characterisation which is often very difficult to achieve.
Looking forward to reading book 2 “The Monastery Murders” published in September 2018