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The Bishop must die is the 28th novel in the Knights Templar murder mysteries featuring Bailiff Simon Puttock and Sir Baldwin. The books are set in the reign of Edward II, between 1330 and 1350.
The Real Edward II
Historically Edward II was a weak king, son of the hammer of the Scots Edward I and married to the She-Wolf of France Isabella. He had a tendency to favour good looking young men and promoted them above all the others, after 20 years of marriage Isabella left Edward and openly lived with Sir Roger Mortimer in Northern France. In the book previous to this one, Bishop Walter De Stapleton had been to France to try and conciliate the king and queen but the Bishop failed, fled for his life and returned to his home of Exeter. Now the Bishop is in disgrace, there are rumours of French invasions to place Edwards's son the future Edward III as a puppet king under the control of Isabella, Mortimer and ultimately the French King Louis.
The Bishop must Die
Begins with a simple event, a man dies under captivity and his son and widow vow vengeance on the man they deem responsible the Bishop of Exeter Walter Stapleton. They then set out not to kill him immediately but to inflict mental torment on him before finally killing the bishop, so they smuggle messages into the Bishops private apartments and slowly subject him to months of mental strife. Finally there is a killing of one of the Bishops aids and the Bishop sends for old friends in the shape of Simon Puttock and Sir Baldwin. They arrive and start investigating the murder, the plots to assassinate the bishop and ultimately some less than savoury antics of the bishop in times past.
The book is largely set in Exeter with a few scenes in London; Bishop Stapleton is a real character and one of the better known characters during the reign of Edward II. He is a man who is both corrupt and devout and has friends and enemies throughout the land; he is a larger than life character and has appeared in previous Knights Templar novels. The book uses his final days as a prop to write about the disintegration of the kingdom, the fate of the bishop is closely linked to the fate of the king and through the eyes of Simon and Baldwin we start to see the final days of the kingdom before the invasion by the French. There is a satisfyingly complex plot, a couple of murders and a few delightfully unpleasant events surrounding the bishop. The book ends with the kingdom collapsing with news of the French invasion, the final pages show the final days of the bishop needless to say things don't go well for him and we are set in future books for the grisly events to unfold.
This was a cracking read, as the novels have progressed there has been less stress on the murders and investigations and more about the fate of the king and the kingdom. The lives of Simon and Baldwin are used to describe the momentous events of those times and we once again re-live the final days of a king and the final days of his kingship, we also encounter corrupt government officials and decadent priests all add up to an England at war with itself and England struggling for a focus forward.
Michael Jecks appear to be getting better with the progression of the storylines, some of his early novels are a bit forced and a bit short on quality but using the events of the times he has managed to write passionately about the life and times of two decent men in troubled times.