Genre: Historical Mystery, Historical Fiction
Setting: England in the fourteenth century.
First Sentence: In the end, I listen to my fear.
Rarely does one come across a novel such as this. Most historical fiction novels, in my opinion, focus on the lives of knights and the nobility. This novel focuses on the poorest of the poor. It portrays the severe circumstances of their daily lives. For them each day was often a battle to stay alive.
It is the depths of winter. In the small village of Duns, people are slowly starving. There is a terrible disaster. The weaver's house burns down. Discovered in the smoldering ruins are the charred bodies of five of the village's young boys.
The people of Duns are uneducated and superstitious. They search for some reason to explain the deaths of there young sons. In their anger, they believe that the Jews must be to blame. They decide to bring the burned bodies to the king and demand justice.
Among the dead is old Mear's ten year old son. Mear is one of the villagers who decide to take the bodies to the king. Mear is a mute. In the ten years he has lived in Duns, no one has heard Mear utter more than a few grunts. But Mear harbors a secret. Mear is, in fact, a woman who has been living as a man ever since her arrival in Duns.
As Mear and the men leave the village, Mear learns another dark secret. One of the men who are taking the bodies to the king is the one who set the fire which killed the boys.
In fourteenth century England, peasants had no standing in law or in the church. If they are found on the high road with out their lord's permission, they they can be punished. If they are found with unburied bodies, they will be punished for not obeying ecclesiastical law.
The hardships and struggles the villagers endure form the main body of the novel. Along the way they suffer greatly. As they progress, the author reveals more of Mear's secret. Told from Mear's point of view we learn that much of her pain was caused by the sins of others.
Will the villagers get the justice they seek?
This is one of the best historical mystery novels I have read. From beginning to end it was a great read. I recommend it highly.