cover image A Head for Poisoning

A Head for Poisoning

Simon Beaufort. St. Martin's Press, $23.95 (378pp) ISBN 978-0-312-20549-2

Set shortly after the killing of English King William Rufus in 1100, this absorbing historical mystery features the return of Sir Geoffrey Mappestone, the unusual crusader knight and unwilling amateur detective who first appeared in Murder in the Holy City. After 20 years abroad, Geoffrey is informed of his father's impending death, and he reluctantly wends his way home to his family's estates near the Welsh border. On the way, a knight in his retinue who carries messages to the king is killed during an ambush--not a propitious start to Geoffrey's homecoming. King Henry I orders Geoffrey to uncover the truth behind the suspicious happenings at the crusader's own home, Goodrich Castle, including the slow poisoning that is killing his father and the sudden death of his favorite sister, Enide. At home, Geoffrey discovers a hornet's nest of greed and treachery, wherein his three brothers and surviving sister wait for their hard-hearted father to die so they can inherit his estates. Geoffrey's father is then found slain by his own dagger, and the knight must strive to discern the murderer as more bodies pile up around him. Beaufort's lively prose and diabolical characters, as well as Geoffrey's sorely tested indestructibility, keep matters moving swiftly. The novel offers finely written descriptions of medieval life and, above all, the exceptionally engaging character of the bookish, highly moral Geoffrey. An exciting finale caps this entertaining period tale from the pseudonymous Beaufort. (June)