This is the first volume in the "Crowner John" medieval mystery series. Sir John is a county coroner, a newly established office in England in the 12th Century. His job is to investigate deaths in his county. A former crusader, he took the post mostly because his shrewish wife wants him to improve his station. He is at odds with his brother-in-law, the weaselly local sheriff, about jurisdictional and authority issues. I love medieval stories, and this book sheds some welcome light onto the culture and justice system (or lack thereof) of that time.
In Sanctuary Seeker, Sir John is on the trail of a murderer, and there are many suspects from whom to choose. In the 1100s, England still made use of trial by "Ordeal," where innocence or guilt is decided by some bat-crap crazy ideas. For example, one suspect must reach shoulder-deep into a boiling caldron and pull out a pebble. If there is no damage to his arm, he is innocent. Of course burns mean guilt. God would protect an innocent man. You'd think someone would notice that every suspect who ever underwent such ordeals turned out to be guilty. People weren't dumb then ... just too superstitious? Did they cling too much to their swords and religion?
Sir John is a different kind of detective. He's intelligent, but no genius. He's not that curious, and has no drive to find the absolute truth, like some fictional detectives. He's just doing his job, and as an honorable man, trying to do it well and fairly against an unjust system. The story is a rather straightforward mystery that is more about characters and motivations than shocks or big reveals. The ending is satisfying and wraps up the story nicely. I will read the other mysteries in the series, but not with a particular sense of urgency.
Rating: ***½ out of 5 stars