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Wednesday, 18 March 2020

‘Hostage to Fortune’ by Sarah Hawkswood


Published by Allison and Busby,
12 March 2020.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-2478-9 (PB)

It is early January 1144 and Hugh Bradecote, Undersheriff of Worcestershire, has been celebrating the Christmas season at his own manor with his betrothed wife, Christina. The couple have much to rejoice about, for both have been married before and widowed but this is the first time that they have chosen a spouse for love. In the past, Christina has failed to carry her babies to full term; she adores Gilbert, Bradecote’s infant son by his first marriage, and longs to bear Bradecote’s children.

Bradecote is summoned back to Worcester by the sheriff, William de Beauchamp, and Christina accompanies him. Beauchamp is concerned that somebody has been forging coins, replacing the silver with lead lightly plated with silver. This is a serious offence and one which could lead to devastating civil unrest. The country is already in a state of war between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Maud, and undermining trust in the value of coinage could be catastrophic.

While Bradecote and his wily second in command, Serjeant Catchpoll, investigate the source of the false coinage, Christina decides to accompany the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy and his attendant monks to the shrine of St. Edgyth at Polesworth. Christina’s pilgrimage is to implore the saint to intervene for her and help her bear Bradecote a healthy child. Bradecote does not want Christina to risk such a journey in winter, without his escort, but their relationship is not one that allows him to forbid her and he believes, as she does, that she will be safe with Father Samson and his monks. However, the travellers are attacked and held prisoner by a party of renegades, the leader of whom hates religion and enjoys killing and torture.

Beauchamp and Catchpoll’s deputy, Walkelin, continue to investigate the false coinage, and Bradecote and Catchpoll follow the trail of murder and devastation left by the renegades and desperately attempt to anticipate their leader’s next move. At the same time, Christina uses her courage and quick wits to avoid death or rape at the the hands of her captors. The stakes get higher as the psychopathic renegade leader loses all control, and Catchpoll fears that if Christina dies Bradecote will crack under the strain.

Hostage to Fortune is the fourth in the Bradecote and Catchpoll mysteries and this is a series that started well and grows stronger all the time. Both characterisation and historical detail are impeccable and the plot is intriguing and cleverly interwoven. It is especially enjoyable to see how the characters throughout the series develop, as the gruff, cynical Catchpoll finds himself increasingly respecting and liking Bradecote, while young Walkelin develops in confidence and shrewdness, and Christina reveals herself as a courageous, compassionate and quick-witted woman. Hostage to Fortune is a thoroughly enjoyable read, which I recommend.
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Reviewer: Carol Westron

Sarah Hawkswood read Modern History at Oxford University and specialised in Military History and Theory of War. She turned from writing military history to mediaeval murder mysteries set in the turmoil of The Anarchy in the mid 12thC, all set in Worcestershire, where she now lives. The Bradecote & Catchpoll series began with Servant of Death (previously published as The Lord Bishop's Clerk) set in Pershore Abbey. The second, Ordeal by Fire, is set in Worcester itself, and there are already another five written. Writing is intrinsic to who she is, and she claims she gets 'grumpy' when there is not another manuscript on the go. Her aim is to create a 'world', one in which the reader can become immersed, and with an accurate historical context, not 'dressing up'. Sarah Hawkswood is a pen name.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

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