From Publishers Weekly
Pilkington's fourth Thomas the Falconer mystery (after 2004's The Ramage Hawk) lightens up on the medieval peasant lingo that was sometimes confusing in earlier efforts, resulting in a trim and compact whodunit set in rural Elizabethan England. Terror "spreads far and wide" across Berkshire Downs as one after another tradesman is struck with a sudden violent illness causing vomiting, bleeding and death. On the fringe of Chaddleworth village are numerous suspicious characters: vagabond mapmaker Christopher Mead and his comely daughter, Grace, and showman-magician Paulo Schweiz with his flamboyant assistant, Kit Page, and performing ape. At his master's request, Thomas Finbow, veteran falconer and sometime sleuth, tries to find out who or what is doing the killing, but he's repeatedly distracted by problems with his wayward daughter and demanding mistress. There's a lot to learn about 16th-century country life in this neatly written tale, including the details of sport falconry and of diverting evenings at cozy pubs like Chaddleworth's Black Bear. Conjuror Paulo's spectacular sound-and-light show, Mundus Peregrinus, is a high point for both the local folk and the reader. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* Although his first love is falconry, Thomas the Falconer also enjoys sleuthing. His master, Sir Robert Vicary, allows and even encourages the falconer's amateur detecting. When the body of a laborer is found in a burned-out barn following a fire at a nearby farm, it at first appears the man died in the blaze. Soon, however, Thomas realizes that the victim was dead before the fire started. The cause? Severe poisoning. But who would want to kill a lowly laborer and why? As Thomas puzzles over the case, another murder occurs, again by poisoning. When a third murder follows, the village panics, fearing a plague or God's vengeance. His investigation takes him into the past and a single cataclysmic event that evolved into a chilling plot for revenge. Fortunately, Thomas' fine intuition and careful analysis of the facts help him solve the case and uncover both the chilling motive and the deadly murderer. Pilkington's latest takes this long-running and popular series to a new level. It is rich in period ambience, with authentic-sounding dialogue and realistic descriptions of the customs and mores of sixteenth-century England. The plot is intriguing and offers plenty of page-turning suspense, and the character of Thomas is richer and more fully developed than in past episodes. A good series steps up. Emily Melton
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