Monday, January 7, 2013

A Vein of Deceit

Most of my friends read fantasy and science fiction, but those genres don't interest me.  Give me a suspicious death and some financial shenanigans any day.  That's exactly what Susannah Gregory gives us in A Vein of Deceit - a Sara Paretsky style mystery set in 14th Century Cambridge.

Michaelhouse College, while never prosperous, has at least been able to remain financially stable.  That has changed in 1357, leaving physician Matthew Bartholomew, theologian and university official Brother Michael, and college Master Ralph de Langelee to contend with oversubscribed classes, overcrowded quarters, and abominable food.  One evening, Langelee asks Matthew to look over the college's accounts to confirm that Brother Wynewyk has apparently embezzled from the college.  He apparently has, but before Langelee can confront him, Wynewyk literally dies laughing.  Did he have some sort of seizure, or could he have been poisoned?  Matthew's grief at his friend's death is compounded by his inability to determine a cause of death and the evidence of his financial duplicity.

Wynewyk's shady dealings center on two nearby settlements, so Matthew, Michael, and Matthew's three students travel to those towns in an attempt to recover some of their missing money.  They don't, but they do stumble into a murder and find their lives endangered when they explore an alleged coal mine.  They also come across information that lends credence to Matt's sister's theory that her friend, who recently bled to death during a pennyroyal-induced miscarriage, may have actually been murdered.

Gregory does a good job of hiding the solution under layers of town/gown conflict, squabbling medical students, inter-college competition, and the unintentionally hilarious actions of Master Langelee.  This is the fifteenth book in Gregory's Matthew Bartholemew series, and possibly the best.  They do not need to be read in order, but there is a minor subplot which requires backstory knowledge to fully appreciate.

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