"Oh what a tangled web we weave," Shakespeare would write some 100 years later. In the meantime, Pat McIntosh gives us a taste of what he might have meant in her second of a series featuring Gil Cunningham in "The Nicholas Feast."
Set in 1492 (a convenient year for any historical writer!), "The Nicholas Feast" finds young (and still single) Mr. Cunningham, student of law and nephew of a local official, embroiled in solving his second murder in less than a month (The first being "The Harper's Quine"). Gil is on hand to observe academic ceremonies of his alma mater during this church holiday and it's now time (hardly before lunch) that a murder is committed. Young William Irvine, one of the students and an actor at the pageantry observance, is found in the coal house with lots of clues and non-clues scattered about his person. He is the bastard son of the influential Montgomery family and Gil discovers that he is even more than that. He's a 16-year-old extortionist, who many at the school would have motive for his death. Complications, indeed, arise. And Gil is given two days to solve the case. Or else.
McIntosh clearly demonstrates her knowledge of historical Glasgow (which apparently was no more beautiful than it is now) and following the success of her first Cunningham novel knows how to create a readable historical murder mystery. Her style is terse and moves quite easily--except for the fact that, in order to accentuate the local color, she drops into too much Scots dialect for most American readers, anyway. Some would be fine, but too much is, well, too much and it becomes a stumbling block at times.
The plot moves quite well, despite that, until the climactic scene (ah, yes, Ms McIntosh has read all of Agatha Christie's works, it seems) and relies upon the old "gather everyone in parlor and I'll tell solve the crime while surrounded by all the characters who COULD have done the deed." Sigh, indeed.
Character-wise, though, the author gets a good mark here. Clearly, she's entranced by her central character (as she should be) and Gil Cunningham has the makings of a fine 15th century sleuth and academic. His romantic interest, Alys, though comes across a bit syrupy but credit goes to the author for providing us with a 15th century woman, ready to jump into the 20th century: she can read; she has a mind of her own; she's ready to act independently; and she's also likeable. I suspect Ms McIntosh will wed the two sooner of later.
A third in the series is already out (a good sign). "The Nicholas Feast" is a good read. (Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)