Monday, November 29, 2010

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Killing Way by Tony Hays

If you like historical mysteries, you might want to check out Tony Hays’s medieval detective series. I was attracted to book one, The Killing Way, because it was billed as "An Arthurian Mystery." Being a great fan of Arthurian lore, I thought, why not?

It wasn’t quite what I expected. It doesn’t rely on the typical legends. In The Killing Way, young Arthur is about to be named successor to the High King, but he has dangerous rivals. When a serving girl is found dead and mutilated at Merlin’s doorstep, Arthur calls on an old war comrade, the one-armed Malgwyn, to investigate. Malgwyn’s success in battle (so impressive that he would be remembered by Arthur) was due to a keen intelligence as well as a burning hatred of Saxons—they’d killed his wife. But his career ended when a Saxon lopped off his arm. Arthur saved him, but Malgwyn believes a one-armed man is useless. He hates Arthur for denying him an honorable death on the battlefield. He’s been a bitter drunkard ever since. Now this "hard-boiled" drunkard takes up the challenge and must solve the mysterious death before Merlin is blamed, compromising Arthur’s chances for the throne.

Familiar Arthurian characters are present in the story but portrayed in an unconventional way: Gareth is a bard; Kai is a young love-struck boy; Tristan is King Mark’s son and a bit of a sop. It caught me off-guard, but given the subject matter, this approach was better than interweaving conventional Arthurian fantasy into the mix. Instead of fantasy, the author blended politics, Druid religion, and a top-notch detective story. Malgwyn is a fascinating character. The series is off to a great start. I have book two, The Divine Sacrifice, on my TBR pile.

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