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The Noble Outlaw is a murder mystery novel written by Bernard Knight about the coroner for Exeter in the late 12th century.
Bernard Knight is a former Home office pathologist and Professor of Forensic Pathology at the University of Wales. He retired in 2000 and after performing over 25000 autopsies decided to use his knowledge of autopsy and crime with his love of the early Norman period of English history. He is a member of the medieval murderers series and has written about a coroner in and around the city of Exeter in the late 12th century.
The book and indeed books in the series are about the coroner of Exeter called Crowner John, his full name is Sir John de Wolfe and is the first coroner of the area after the imposition of Normal ideas after the invasion a century earlier. John is a man in his late thirties, intense, forboading and prone to moods and tempers. However, he is fair and treats his friends and enemies evenly, he's not one to betray or perhaps trust.
The larger setting
This book is set in the reign of Richard I, Richard the Lionheart of legend is king of England but is on crusades against the moores in the Holy Land. At the moment of this book, Richard has returned to his French lands so is accessible but the control of the country is held by the chancellor Walter William. The other main player at the time is the Kings brother John, John covets the throne and has used the kings absence in the holyland to press his claims.
So onto this novel, that problem with John at the national level has been condensed to a local problem when a knight on campaign in the Holy land returns and finds his home taken by the regions local knight. In a melee one of the usurping knights men is killed and the returning knight runs off to become an outlaw in Dartmoor and is the Noble Outlaw of the title.
The novel starts two years after the events mentioned and one of Exeters guild members is found dead, soon two more are murdered and the coroner John is forced to investigate the murders. So the story begins with the coroner trying to find out why three of the town's premier citizens are found dead. The investgation soon brings in the noble outlaw and the cause of the murders is connected to the events two years ago.
Thats the initial phase of the novel, of course John finds out who the murderer is and the culprit and why has huge effects on the local town and county of Devon.
Murder mysteries in the middle ages are now commonplace, with the success of Ellis Peters and continued by Susanna Gregory's Matthew Bartholemhew books. Success of those has thrown up a huge range of novel with some better than others, Bernard Knight is one of the better writers he has created a very realistic world in Exeter in the late 12th century. Knight has recreated a world in turmoil from an absent king, a powerful and greedy brother and a corrupt system which takes chances when a knight is absent on holy orders from his king.
John De Wolfe is a strong and harsh character maybe not the easiest to like or warm too but he feels realistic, here is a man who is struggling to maintain his position in the new position of coroner. He has to keep the locals in check whilst investigating all the crime in the town, along with that is a black temper and a tendency to think with his sword than with his head. He also thinks with his sword in other ways, he is a serial womeniser and the author rather enjoys putting his main character in positions where he can be a bit naughty.
I enjoyed the book and have read some of the other books in the series, the books slowly progress the coroners life but here in this book we meet him in one of his first roles. This book and the author is a must for any reader of historical fiction.