Mystery Books for Sale

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by Brian Kavanagh
Jacobyte Books, June 2002
231 pages
ISBN: 174100108

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Let me begin by saying I've been to see the Bayeux Tapestry twice and that I'm very interested in medieval English history. Without those two factors, I don't think I would have made it through The Embroidered Corpse, because the tapestry and the death of King Harold at Hastings in 1066 are central to the story -- indeed the sometimes overwhelm it.

Sometime antique dealer, Belinda Lawrence, and her partner, Hazel Whitby, leave Bath for a fair to be held at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. Hazel (about twenty years older than Belinda) is a very one -- maybe two -- note character. Where is the next breathing male and does he, by chance, have a gin and tonic available? One of the breathing males, a bartender, points them to Kidbrooke House, where the owner shows them what may be a missing panel from the Bayeux Tapestry. He refuses to sell it to Belinda, but sometime later, after he is murdered, and his possessions are auctioned, Hazel successfully bids on a Jacobean cabinet with a drawer where the victim had put the panel. While Kavanagh takes pains to let us know why the content of the drawer were overlooked (drawer was stuck), it's hard to believe that any self-respecting auctioneer wouldn't take as much trouble as Belinda does (she finally opens the drawer) to check the contents of such a valuable piece. After they find the panel in the drawer, Hazel gives it to Belinda, since she had coveted it so.

Several points just don't make sense. Belinda's boyfriend, a real estate broker, just happens to have a book on the Bayeux tapestry. Hazel, who has been dealing in precious antiques for years, is having an alarm installed "tomorrow" -- making it plausible that a break in could occur without anyone noticing. (Wouldn't you think that if you didn't have an alarm, you'd make sure that there was someone in the shop at all times?) Belinda invites the local vicar to dinner, since he's a bit of a history buff. While serving lamb and vegs to him, she leaves the panel on the table. Though the panel is not priceless, it may at least be valuable and of interest to historians -- without splashes of gravy.

The vicar is then murdered in the same manner as the owner of Kidbrooke House -- a method very similar to the killing of King Harold -- and before the vicar can relate the important information he gathered from his old friend, Sir Gerald Taylor.

The mystery centers both on the meaning of the contents of the panel as a clue to the murderer, and on a pair, Charles Godwin and spouse who have established the Fellowship of St. Augustine, a truly weird religious sect with young monks who display very un-monkish behavior, such as getting into fights at the local pub. Charles Godwin believes he has claim to the English throne, since King Harold's surname was Godwinson.

From some rudimentary research I've done, Kavanagh seems to have done his own historical research well. The tapestry, actually panels of embroidery, was commissioned by Odo, half brother of William of Normandy; it was most likely made in England, perhaps in Canterbury.

The only character who is particularly engaging is Mark, Belinda's boyfriend, who has a bemused -- rather detached -- attitude to Belinda's obsession, although he humors her by accompanying her on most of her escapades.

The less said about the ending, the better.

Note: Perhaps this is just sophomore-itis. This book and others by Australian authors can be downloaded from starting at under $4.00 US per book.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, December 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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