THE BUTCHER BIRD
Pegasus Crime (2016)
Kindle edition: $12.99
Kindle edition: $12.99
A Somershill Manor Mystery (Book #2)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Oswald de Lacy is finding his second year as Lord Somershill no easier than the first. He has a lot on his plate: the plague years of 1348-1350 wiped out half the population of England, leaving a dearth of workers to till the fields and tend the sheep. Those who are left are disgruntled at having to do twice the work for the same pay, but his hands are tied. Oswald’s sister Clemence has passed her due date for the birth of her child with her late, unlamented husband, Lord Versey, and her two small step-daughters are running wild. Villagers swear they’ve seen a large flying creature that’s been stealing lambs, and now a dead infant has been found impaled on a thorn bush. The people claim she is a victim of a Butcher Bird, a shrike who treats his prey in exactly this manner. Oswald discounts the superstitious villagers: the bird would surely not be big enough to take lambs, much less grab infants. John Barrow, a man still mad with grief for the loss of his family to the plague, is being blamed for creating the creature through an unnatural act and setting it on its murderous rampage.
Even though Oswald spent many years in a monastery, he is skeptical of the many firmly-held beliefs of the populace, preferring to use logic and science. When the villagers threaten to take care of Barrow on their own terms, he intervenes, giving the man shelter until the mystery of the dead baby is solved. He remembers all too well how he’d been unable to save a deformed boy from the flames, and he would not make that mistake again.
The natives are restless. They want the child killer and his monstrous cohort. They want more pay. Many who can are leaving him for greener pastures. Those who stay are hungry and angry. What else could go wrong? Very soon, another baby is found stuck in a thorn tree. Barrow somehow escapes and can’t be found. That’s bad enough, but then his sister’s step-daughters disappear from his home. His sister, who is also living there to recover from a traumatic delivery, harangues Oswald for fear of her own infant.
A hue and cry sends everyone out looking for Barrow and the girls. When grim evidence of Mary and Becky is discovered, Oswald has to admit Barrow is probably guilty, and helps in the search. All is not as it seems, however. He meets Lord Versey’s seductive sister, who claims Clemence was cruel to the girls. She has an agenda of her own, and poor naive Oswald succumbs to her charms. He finds out the truth about the imaginary butcher bird, a ghost from his past turns up in a most unwelcome way, and tragedy strikes his own family. The innocent young boy he was becomes a man of strength and capability, leaving him bloody but unbowed.
This is the second book in A Sommershill Manor mystery series, and it is even more enjoyable than its predecessor, PLAGUE LAND. Ms. Sykes has a masterful grasp of the people, places, and culture of England in the fourteenth century, warts and all. There are a lot of warts, but that just adds to the color of the story. She uses her meticulous research skills to create a three-dimensional picture of that time and place, and makes it interesting to any reader, not just those who like fine historical writing.
Would you like to read a review of PLAGUE LAND? If so, please click here.
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