cover image Falconer and the Great Beast

Falconer and the Great Beast

Ian Morson / Author, Morson / Author St. Martin's Press $21.9

The fifth installment in Morson's medieval mystery series featuring William Falconer, Regent Master at Oxford (A Psalm for Falconer, etc.), finds the university town intrigued and repelled by two foreign visitors. The first is King Henry III's elephant. The second is an encampment of Tartars, an Eastern tribe that has vanquished parts of Europe and now seeks an audience with the English king. Hostilities between town and university, as well as within the Tartar tribe come to the fore when the Tartar leader, Chimbai, is brutally murdered. Falconer investigates the death with the help of Peter Bullock, the city's constable. Suspects abound, including Chimbai's smug successor, Guchuluk, and a disgruntled English knight. The clue may lie in the hands of an old Jew, Bellasez, whose own murder prolongs the investigation. Set in 1268, the novel is permeated with period details. Morson skillfully draws parallels between Oxford's suspicion of the Tartars and the townspeople's attitudes toward the elephant: both are alien to the insular English, who regard the interlopers with a mixture of fear and awe fed by wild imagination. And once again, Morson uses Falconer's only weakness, his secretive personality, to lure readers into an enjoyable addition to a well-written series. (July)