I joined the Cambridge library yesterday. I think I need to go back again today to take some books back. It's quite a nice library actually, although I have yet to fully figure out their filing system... Anyway. I happened to spot this one in with the thrillers, and it looked pretty good so I brought it home and started reading.
The historical background feels realistic. The characters are mostly interesting. The plot is pretty good. In fact, if that was all I was assessing this on, it'd be doing pretty well. Unfortunately, the actual writing itself isn't great. I can't quite put my finger on what's wrong, but it just doesn't quite read as smoothly or as interestingly as it might. I think perhaps it's with the characters where the problem lies: they're great, interesting people, but the author appears to have broken the cardinal rule of 'show, don't tell'. However, this is the first in a series (or at least, it looked like it was the first, and there were plenty more), so there's every chance that the writing will improve further on in the series. I hope so.
As an idea, it's brilliant. Set in 1194, Sir John de Wolfe, retired soldier of the Crusades, is the first coroner for Devon. But where does his jurisdiction begin and that of his brother-in-law (whom, incidentally, he can't stand) end? So basically, a crime series set in a world without fingerprinting, DNA, cars, or any of the mod cons that detective novels today take for granted. Going out to investigate a murder in a village takes quite some effort on horse back, especially when the village is in the middle of nowhere. In short, it's a very interesting construct, the historical background certainly seems real enough (I confess I don't know a lot about the period, but what I do know seems to tally), and basically it'd be an excellent book if the quality of the writing were a little bit better. So I'm hopeful for the rest of the series.