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Friday 20 August 2021

‘Wolf at the Door’ by Sarah Hawkswood

Published by Allison & Busby,
19 August 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-74902725-4 (PB)

It is All Hallows’ Eve, 1144, and Durand Wuduweard, the Keeper of the King’s Forest of Feckenham, is discovered dead in his house. Durand was an arrogant, vicious man and none of the villagers mourn him, but they are all terrified by the manner of his death. He was discovered beside his hearth with his face savaged beyond recognition by a powerful animal with sharp, powerful teeth. Fears of a man-killing wolf, or worse a werewolf, strike terror into the villagers and they send for help to William de Beauchamp, Lord Sheriff of Worcestershire.

De Beauchamp’s second-in command is Hugh Bradecote, the undersheriff, but he is away at his own manor, anxiously awaiting the birth of his second child. Childbirth is a dangerous undertaking for even the wealthiest and most well-tended woman and Bradecote’s first wife had died following the birth of their son. Bradecote still feels guilty that he was not more supportive to his first wife; he adores his second wife and is appalled at the thought of losing her. The sheriff knows that he has to respond swiftly and decisively to the villagers’ plea for help and so he sends Catchpoll, his cynical but trustworthy sergeant, to investigate Durand Wuduweard’s death. From the start, Catchpoll is profoundly sceptical that Durand was killed by a wolf. This disbelief is increased when he is informed that the body was discovered by Durand’s son, William, a swindler with whom Catchpoll has had many dealings and whom he knows as William Swicol, which means Deceitful William. When Catchpoll views the scene of death he has to revise his opinion and admit it was probable that a wolf had been involved but his years of investigative experience tells him that it is not as simple as an attack by a wild wolf venturing into a domestic dwelling.

It soon becomes clear that the death of Durand is only the first move in a wave of violence that sweeps through the the Forest of Feckenham and its environs: travellers vanish, there are other attacks by the wild beast, and also arson, which damages dwellings belonging to both the wealthy and the poor. In a desperate attempt to regain control of his jurisdiction, de Beauchamp leads his hounds and huntsmen in an effort to track down the wolf, which, even if unsuccessful, he hopes will reassure the forest dwellers that he is taking action. At the same time, Hugh Bradecote is forced to leave his wife and join the sheriff’s other most trusted officers, Sergeant Catchpoll and Catchpoll’s apprentice, Walkelin, in order to follow the trail of a vicious band of outlaws who revel in destroying anybody, well-born or humble, young or old, who is unfortunate enough to have earned their malice.

Wolf at the Door is the ninth in the series featuring Bradecote and Catchpoll and it is a series that gets stronger all the time. The plot is complex and intriguing, and the historical detail is masterly, totally convincing and detailed, and wonderfully evocative of England in the 12th century. The characterisation is superb, with protagonists who develop with each novel and whose relationships grow stronger all the time; it is especially enjoyable to observe the development of Walkelin into an increasingly skilled investigator and a worthy part of the team. Wolf at the Door is a page-turner, which I thoroughly recommend for anyone who enjoys well written, immaculately researched, historical crime.
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 author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. 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 This Game of Ghosts
click on the title.

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