cover image A Personal Devil: A Magdalene La Batarde Mystery

A Personal Devil: A Magdalene La Batarde Mystery

Roberta Gellis. Forge, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86998-4

The sights, smells and sounds of Southwark in 1139 come alive in veteran Gellis's second medieval mystery (after 1999's A Mortal Bane) featuring sleuth and whorehouse mistress Magdalene la B tarde and gallant knight Sir Bellamy of Itchen (more often called Bell). Passionately defensive and caring of the women who work for her within the Old Priory Guesthouse, Magdalene is particularly fond of the blind Sabina, who has left to be the exclusive leman of Master Mainard. When Sabina appears at the guesthouse distraught with the news that Mainard's wife, Bertrild, is dead and Mainard is the chief suspect in her murder, Magdalene enlists Bell's aid and together they begin their investigation. With some interesting medieval forensics and surreptitious snooping, the two soon discover intriguing evidence and a growing list of suspects. In addition to a well-crafted plot, moments of heart-stopping suspense and a dramatic conclusion, the author provides poignant glimpses into the humanity of her characters, particularly the women of the guesthouse. The relationships among the two couples, Sabina and Mainard and Magdalene and Bell, are often touching and humorous, and certainly speak to the position of women in medieval society. Gellis's focus on the ""little people"" of the period is most welcome. (Mar. 13) Forecast: Gellis has won the Lifetime Achievement Award for Historical Fiction and the Romantic Writers of America Lifetime Award; a little cross-marketing should go a long way in bringing substantial sales to this title (which carries blurbs from, among others, John Jakes and Catherine Coulter).