Review by: KEN KORCZAK
The Templar’s Cross is a tightly-written murder mystery set in 15th Century Scotland.
It moves along briskly and will keep readers turning the pages. Author J.R. TOMLIN vividly recreates a late medieval Perth, an ancient city of central Scotland situated on the River Tay.
Under Tomlin’s pen, the Perth of 1424 comes alive in all of its dreary, muddy, damp and noisy vitality – streets are filled with common folk, peasants and barking marketers selling kale, leeks and bloody cuts of butchered meats, as well as crusts of bread and the occasional spicy sausage.
Our hero is a Scottish Knight who is damaged goods. Sir Law Kintour was badly injured fighting the English in France at the Battle of Verneui – now back in Scotland sporting a bad limp, he is desperate to find a new patron to fight for, but who wants to hire a crippled knight?
Holed up in a drafty, seedy room above a lowly tavern, Sir Law’s luck suddenly turns when he receive a visit from a mysterious stranger who has a job for him – but it’s not the kind of work befitting a battle-tested knight.
Desperate for coin, Sir Law agrees to take on a mission which quickly embroils him in a double-murder mystery. Worse yet, he quickly becomes a prime suspect. Now he must solve the murders in just days or hang for the grisly crimes himself!
This is the second J.R. Tomlin novel I have read. I thought the first, FREEDOM’S SWORD, was an okay read, but with this offering, Tomlin shows that she has grown considerably into her craft. She is emerging as a polished writer with an excellent feel for pacing, command of place and subject, and an ability to captivate readers — immersing us in a long-past era of history that comes alive in all of its harsh majesty.
I think it’s inevitable that ‘Templar’s Cross’ will be compared with the hugely best-selling ‘Hangman’s Daughter’ by German author Oliver Pötzsch, also a murder mystery set in a grimy European city of antiquity – if ‘Templar’s’ is perhaps not as richly imagined as ‘Hangman’, it has better pacing, is more tightly written and leaves us hungry for more.
In fact, that’s my only (very minor) complaint about this book – it ends in a satisfying bang, but truly begs for an epilogue. Tomlin misses an opportunity to not only “cool down’ her readers, but to also let us enjoy a satisfying mug of ale with Sir Law as he warms his aching bones next to a peat fire while munching on a spicy sausage – as he contemplates his next mission.
But, whatever – when a writer leaves us eagerly wanting more, that means ‘mission accomplished.’ You have that feeling that you’ve just enjoyed a great book.
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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