A new author and a new sleuth – at least to me and to this site. However, a couple of her books have recently come my way and I certainly enjoyed them.
Viviane Moore in fact writes in French, which may be why I missed her the first time round.
The first book, the third in the series and the one I actually enjoyed most, is The Darkest Red, set in Normandy, near the mouth of the Seine, in the spring of 1145. A whale has swum up the river, and this, to the monks of the local monastery and of course the villagers, means a welcome feast – particularly welcome because the spring equinox is the worst time of the year: the weather is still icy, the food has all but run out, and the terrible storms that usually accompany the equinox are on their way.
Leading the hunt on the river when the book opens is a young Dane called Rurik, a harpoonist who happens to be staying in the neighbourhood. Rurik is important because when the village beauty is brutally murdered suspicion naturally falls on him, the outsider.
But by that time, Galeran de Lesneven is there, having been sent by the Bishop along with a Dominican Friar, Odo, to investigate allegations of wrong-doing at the monastery, where an abbot who seems quite unfitted for the role is letting things get totally out of hand and an ambitious prior is stirring things up in the hope of being named abbot himself.
What is really going on at the abbey, and did the Dane really murder the girl?
I like Galeran, and definitely recommend him – and this author – to anyone who shares my insatiable appetite for well-plotted medieval mysteries with an array of odd and typically medieval characters.
The White Path is set in the following year, and takes our hero down to the Spanish border where a motley group of pilgrims are setting out on the long and dangerous trek to Santiago de Compostela. In this case made infinitely more dangerous by the presence among them of a serial-killer who takes pleasure in cutting his victims' throats and mutilating their bodies. Sickened by the sight of the bodies, Galeran joins the pilgrims on the trail across the Pyrenees.
I said I enjoyed the first story more. Perhaps that was because it was neater, more unified in an Aristotelian sense. But The White Path, too, is an excellent read and I shall never think of the pilgrimage to Compostela again without remembering the harrowing journey described so vividly in this book.
One gripe. The translation is mostly little more than competent, and often stilted. I doubt it if it ever does justice to the original. And sometimes it does become really awful – so awful that the English editor should never have allowed it to pass. For instance, in The White Path there is this passage:
In the name of Our Lady, take this staff and this mantle, the symbols of thy pilgrimage, that thee may be worthy of reaching Saint Jacques's tomb purified, safe and enriched, and that, thy journey done, thee may return to us in perfect health.
A French-English translator unable to use the Second Person Singular correctly should be remplacé tout de suite by one of the no-doubt thousands of rather better-educated French-English literary translators in search of work. And as for the editor ... "thee may" for "thou mayest": come on!
Perhaps The White Way (see the cover above) is another, better, translation. I don't know. The one I am reviewing here is definitely entitled The White Path.