Roberta Gellis






The 4th Magdalene la Bâtarde Mystery
Five Star, April 2006
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Mystery. London, England, 1139

Magdalene, gracious lady and mistress of a whorehouse, is in love. One of the men she loves is William of Ypres, military captain of the king, who set her up in business and continues to fund her generously. She loves him out of gratitude for his understanding and support. The other man is Sir Bellamy of Itchen, a household knight of the Bishop of Winchester. She loves Bell out of passion. Bell does not understand that her heart is big enough for two, and has left her.

The Bishop has no time for lovers’ quarrels. Someone put a dead whore in his bedroom, just when it will embarrass him horribly before an important conference, and he needs Bell and Magdalene to find out which of his political enemies has resorted to extreme measures.

The exposure of the dead Nelda Roundheels as a charming blackmailer leads to several suspects. Sir Linley, who provided her apartment, is about to make a rich marriage. The huge, drunken soldier Gehard loves violence. The elusive Sir John has concealed family loyalties. Father Holdyn, a high Church official in London, allowed Nelda to steal from him without complaint. Most of them would benefit by hurting the public position of the Bishop of Winchester.

It is heart-warming for readers to return to Magdalene and her friends. There is a family affection in the Old Priory Guesthouse. Magdalene only welcomes men who treat her three women well, commanding high prices for their bodies and their discretion. Letice, from the Arab countries, is unable to speak. Ella is mentally retarded, a favorite because of her insatiable enthusiasm for sex. All three are beautiful but only Diot has no handicap. Even the maid is deaf. Bell misses them all greatly. Now that Magdalene needs his protection again, can they find their way back to each other?

It is interesting to see a drug theme in a novel set this long ago. Author Roberta Gellis shows that opium is recognized as addicting – though they don’t have that word for it – but not yet seen as the danger it is. The difference in the twelfth century English attitude toward drugs points up the way ideas change over time. Since opium use doesn’t seem to have been very common then, it couldn’t have become a social problem yet.

There has been a four-year gap since the previous book of this series. During that time Gellis has been teaming with Mercedes Lackey on an enchanting historical fantasy series beginning with THIS SCEPTER’D ISLE. Now that she’s back, you won’t want any gaps in the story of Magdalene and her friends, so here are the other titles: A MORTAL BANE, A PERSONAL DEVIL, and BONE OF CONTENTION. Several threads of personal story left open in CHAINS OF FOLLY leave us impatient for the next book.

April 2006 Review


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