Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson
Published 2008 by St. Martin’s Minotaur, New York
Veil of Lies: A Medieval Noir is Jeri Westerson’s debut novel featuring Crispin Guest; a medieval tec of the Sam Spade ilk. Originally from nobility with land, wealth, and a promising future, he loses it all to a rash and treasonous act against King Richard II. Although lucky to be alive, he was degraded and left with nothing but the clothes on his back.
Though literate, Crispin doesn’t have the skills for most employment. But he has a knack for finding things and develops a reputation as “The Tracker.” He contracts his services for six pence per day, but rarely has two farthings to rub together. At the novel’s start, we find him in debt, owing his landlord, the butcher, and the couple who befriended him, pub owners who are willing to maintain a running tab. He is summoned to the manor of Nicholas Walcote, a wealthy cloth merchant who wants to hire Crispin to spy on his wife, who Nicholas suspects of infidelity. Crispin is loath to take the job, and even though his fee is the only thing between him and supper, he turns it down.
However, Nicholas would not be so easily dismissed, and what ensues is a tale of loyalty, murder, love, and international intrigue that stretches from England to Italy. At its heart is a relic—a medieval lie detector, the Mandyllon or Veronica from the Latin: vera icona, true image. Through his investigation, Crispin not only discovers his quarry, but also learns a good deal about himself, and he is not altogether pleased.
Westerson wastes no words bringing the characters to life in a fourteenth-century London that the reader can not only see in the mind’s eye, but hear, feel, and smell as well. This book should appeal to readers who enjoy a medieval setting, mystery, and the hardboiled detective that is Crispin Guest. For me, the best thing is that there are more novels in the works. The next, Serpent in the Thorns, is currently available, and the third, The Demon’s Parchment, will be available this month. Happily, there are more to come, as I know this is one series that I’ll want to keep reading.