- Publisher: Minotaur Books (2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312276834
- ISBN-13: 978-0312276836
- Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 14 x 2.5 cm
- Shipping Weight: 454 g
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,361,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Newly married to Adela (his first wife's cousin) and basking in the glow of his newly merged family (that includes Adela's young son, his own daughter, and his mother-in-law from his first marriage), one would think that Roger the Chapman would be content never to leave his new home at Lewin's Mead in Bristol. However it isn't too long before Roger feels the pull to travel (much to his mother-in-law's disappointment and chagrin). Fortunately for Roger, Adela understands her husband completely, and refuses to stand in his way. For Roger has one talent: the ability to solve knotty problems (i.e. apparently unsolvable murders). And Roger (who happens to be an ex-Benedictine novitiate) feels strongly that it is God who directs him to travel to wherever there is a wrong that needs to be put right, or a murderer brought to justice. And this time God (and his feet) sends him to Plymouth, where happenstance takes him to Bilbury Street, where Roger learns a particularly vicious murder took place a few months ago.
Five months ago, retired and wealthy fisherman, Oliver Capstick was brutally bludgeoned to death (while he slept) by his young grandnephew, Beric Gifford. Beric (and his older sister Berenice) happen to be Master Capstick's only surviving relatives, as well as his heirs. But they are also quite poor and quite dependent on the old man. And when Master Capstick tries to arrange a match for Beric with a glassmaking heiress, all hell breaks loose. For Beric happens to be in love with his sister's lady's maid, Katherine Glover, and he refuses to countenance the match his granduncle is proposing. The two have an angry and ugly falling out, with Master Capstick threatening to make Berenice his sole heir. And on the morning following this altercation, it is alleged that Beric rode over to his uncle's house and beat him to death while he slept. That Beric is guilty of the crime is not the issue -- far too many people saw him leaving the house mere minutes before the hue and cry was raised. No, the chilling bit deals with the posse's inability to apprehend Beric, and his quick disappearance from the scene of the crime. Many people believe that Beric ate an herb known as Saint John's Fern, and herb that is able (or so people claim) to render the consumer invisible. Roger, however refuses to believe in this supernatural explanation, and is sure that there is a logical explanation as to why Beric has not been found yet. And confident that that is the reason why he is in Plymouth, Roger begins his investigation, gently questioning witnesses, trying to figure out where Beric Gifford is hiding and uncover the secrets that the Gifford family is hiding.
This latest Roger the Chapman installment turned out to be a rather chilling and haunting one. (Esp haunting were the bits where Roger was sure that he was being stalked by the murderous and seemingly invisible Beric). And while it did take a while for the mystery to unfold, the story proved to be such a perplexing and intriguing one that I didn't really notice this 'flaw.' Adding to the ambiance of the novel is Kate Sedley's excellent depiction of the everyday life of the common folk in the fiftenth century -- their hardships, they generosity and their clannishness. "The Saint John's Fern" proved to be an excellent and entirely engrossing read. Not only was the mystery a puzzling and involving one, but Kate Sedley had also strewn clues all over the place so that the reader will also be able to solve the mystery along with Roger. And that made reading "The Saint John's Fern" a lot of fun as well.
Roger learns from Joanna that someone viciously beat her neighbor Master Capstick to death with witnesses having seen the victim's great-nephew leaving the scene of the crime. However, when the King's men came to arrest Beric, he had vanished with many locals superstitiously believing that witchcraft through the application of THE SAINT JOHN'S FERN was used to make Beric invisible. Roger begins to investigate and that leads to attempts on his life and the insinuation that he was involved in a second homicide.
Perhaps this time Roger will appreciate home sweet home as his latest adventure turns quite personal and readers must accept his latest wanderlust. Though the mystery elements are cleverly written and nicely tied together in the climax, the story line belongs to graphic perusal of fifteenth century life in England. Roger remains a strong detective, but it is the historical elements that make Kate Sedley's latest who-done-it a winner for series fans and those readers who relish a resplendent look at medieval times.