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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

'Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St Olaf's Church by Indrek Hargla

Translated by Adam Cullen
Published by Peter Owen,
26 November 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-7602-1844-0

We are in 15th century Tallinn.   The apothecary, Melchior Wakenstede, becomes involved in trying to discover who murdered the Teutonic knight, Henning von Clingenstain, as he returned to the town from the Toompea Castle, late at night while comprehensively drunk.   The town and castle are separate entities linked together and part of any investigation must be to decide whether the murderer was from the town or the castle.  Maps are provided at the end of the book.

Corroborative details of 15th century life are very convincing - in particular the mindsets of the inhabitants are displayed by their actions and attitudes.   Melchior, possibly because of his profession, is a keen observer of the scene around him and he soon appreciates that this is a very puzzling death.  Other characters play their parts - the would-be Meistersinger, the goldsmith, the monks, the pastor, the merchants and their womenfolk - while the geography of the place dictates much that happens.  The guild of foreign merchants is called the Blackheads which reads strangely to an English speaker!   St Olaf's Church is another brooding presence with its famous spire - the tallest in the world at that time.  This town is a member of the Hanseatic League so it is not a parochial place but is full of a variety of people.  The origins of the real Tallinn are being shown to us.

After further frightening deaths in this bustling entrepôt, Melchior begins to work out what has happened.  He is a Poirotesque figure who gathers a group together to expound his theory of events at the end, with the aim of revealing the murderer.   This is a cleverly crafted tale with a fully developed background.  The story is densely packed, literally so.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
There are 6 books in the series but this is the first of two to be translated into English.

Indrek Hargla was born in 1970. One of the bestselling Estonian authors working today, his Apothecary Melchior novels now run to six widely translated volumes, and film versions are currently in production. 'Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St Olaf's Church' is the first of two volumes in the series to be published in English by Peter Owen.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

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