|Alys Clare: The Tavern in the Morning|
Martin's Press (Hardcover), ISBN 0-312-26124-1
A dreary February market day closes upon the tavern run by Goody Anne, a place famed for its cordial ambience and wholesome food. But the ambience turns as frigid as the weather when a farmer is found dead in his own vomit, and all indications point to a slice of meat pie made by the tavernkeeper herself.
Josse, friend and frequent customer of Mistress Anne's, hates to think of either her or her fine cooking falling under suspicion of the deed. When Josse discovers wolf's bane in the remnants of the pie, he knows that someone must have slipped it in. Then Josse learns that a charming, handsome nobleman also ordered a slice of that very same pie. Josse becomes convinced that someone intended to poison the upper-class visitor, not the poor stranger who died alone in Anne's guest chamber.
After failing to persuade the wood-witted sheriff of the death's suspicious nature, Josse turns to his old friend and ally, the formidable Abbess Helewise. Though illness prevents her from participating in the necessary "field work," she provides the thread of common sense Josse needs to unravel this mystery. But the "damsel in distress" that Josse finds at the mystery's core promises to change his life forever.
With The Tavern in the Morning, Clare delivers an engaging story that bridges the reader's gap from possessing a purely intellectual interest in discovering "whodunit" to caring about the fates of the main characters themselves. Excellent background research and vivid (yet not overwhelming) descriptions immerse the reader in late 12th-century England. I also awarded a bonus to Clare for avoiding any anachronisms that might propel her readers out of the story.
I deducted a half-point for the one plot element didn't quite ring true in this otherwise intelligently plotted story. To avoid divulging any spoilers, I will only identify this element as the event in the damsel's backstory that got her into distress in the first place -- an event which occurred several years prior to the opening of The Tavern in the Morning.
I also didn't agree with the story's ending -- but, then, this is Clare's series, not mine. I leave the reader to decide, for The Tavern in the Morning definitely deserves a visit. Just make sure someone else samples the pie first.
Kim D. Headlee
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