The Grim Reaper is the sixth Crowner John mystery. The series is set in the late 12th century with the establishment by Richard the Lionheart of the office of Crowner,or Coroner. This was partly a fundraiser for the Crown and partly an attempt to check the worst excesses of the Sherriffs. Sir John de Wolfe is the first Crowner of Devon, with home and office in Exeter.
In the Grim Reaper, a Jewish moneylender is found murdered. A scrap of parchment containing a biblical quotation is tucked into the corpse's hand. At a time when only 1%of the population are literate and fewer still familiar with biblical texts, suspicion immediately falls on the clergy of the town. There are about 100 priests and other clergy in Exeter - many of whom are decidedly odd so there is no shortage of candidates for suspicion, including the Crowner's clerk, who is a defrocked priest.
Other murders follow, all with biblical references left with the corpses in varying ways by the murderer.
Tensions mount, not only because of the increasing body count but also due to conflicts between the church and secular authorities,political factions, preparations for the arrival of King's Court Justices for the first time in three years, and, most especially, due to the continuing power struggle between the Crowner and Sherriff.
This series is very well balanced between solid history, clever mystery, entertaining characters and, as the author is a forensic pathologist,the murder and mayhem are very detailed too - sometimes startlingly so.
The author also manages to avoid two of the pitfalls of medieval mystery series - this book does not contain artificial antique language and it can be comfortably read without having read the earlier books in the series.
This is fun stuff for any historical mystery fan and might especially appeal to readers of Michael Jeck's Templar series which is set in the same area a couple of centuries later.