by Martin Jensen
AmazonCrossing (29 octobre 2013)
272 pages - 5.21 $ (Kindle)
I've had this book through NetGalley. I know it's lame but its cover had me from the start... and then, the blurb did the rest!
The first in the bestselling Danish series of historical mysteries
The newly crowned King Cnut of Denmark has conquered England and rules his new empire from Oxford. The year is 1018 and the war is finally over, but the unified kingdom is far from peaceful.
Halfdan’s mixed lineage—half Danish, half Saxon—has made him a pauper in the new kingdom. His father, his brother, and the land he should have inherited were all taken by the new king’s men. He lost everything to the war but his sense of humor. Once a proud nobleman, Halfdan now wanders the country aimlessly, powered only by his considerable charm and some petty theft. When he finds an unlikely ally in Winston, a former monk, he sees no reason not to accept his strange invitation to travel together to Oxford. Winston has been commissioned to paint a portrait of the king at the invitation of his new wife, and the protection of a clever man like Halfdan is well worth its price in wine and bread.
But when the pair’s arrival in court coincides with news of a murder, the king has a brilliant idea: Why not enlist the newly arrived womanizing half-Dane and the Saxon intellectual to defuse a politically explosive situation? The pair represents both sides of the conflict and seem to have crime-solving skills to boot. In their search for the killer, Halfdan and Winston find seduction, adventure, and scandal in the wild early days of Cnut’s rule.
What I think of it
I loved it! An excellent book, very pleasant, very nice, very funny.
I completely fell for Halfdan - who tells the story in the first person - even if he sometimes lacks in moral sense. When we meet him, he's about to rob Winston to steal his food and he's considering it without qualm. Add to that that he's a real womanizer and that he does not hesitate to use violence if necessary. I don't know if it's his humor or the fact that he's sometimes unlucky or clumsy, but he's a very likable character that one quickly appreciates. Winston, the brain of the pair is also a great character: former monk, an intelligence based on the thoroughness and details, he has a sense of his superiority. He regularly highlights the fact that he was the first one to understand one thing and that Halfdan could have done the same by thinking. Winston and Halfdan are a bit like Holmes and Watson, although Watson in this book is a little more crafty and womanizer. Do not forget the donkey, Atheling, which provides some very funny and light scenes, especially when in the presence of Halfdan.
The plot is well done. It a classic whodunit, the number of potential suspects is known quickly, all that is to know is which one did it. The elements are revealed one after the other, in a chain of events that leads logically to the killer. It is easy to know who killed before the end, but the overall context of the book makes that story interesting until the end. We also learn more about judgment and how people defended themselves at the time (and thankfully that has changed!)
I enjoyed getting to know the life in England at the time, which makes this book very interesting from the historical side. It's also nice to discover the historical side of the history of England from the perspective of a Danish. Here, the Danes or Vikings are not the bad guys just because they have invaded the country.
Finally, Halfdan and Winston have three days to discover the murderer so the pace is fast, you won't get bored. There's action, especially as Cnut want to solve the problem as soon as possible, meetings more or less pleasant and characters that bring a lot of freshness. And icing on the cake, this book is the first in a series.
In a nutshell
A little treasure. The light atmosphere of the book - especially thanks to Halfdan I must say - the plot, the historical context: it's all well written, well done and very enjoyable to read. I highly recommend this book! I give it 4.5 / 5.
My thought on closing the book : Excellent!