The Demon's Parchment: A Medieval Noir

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Macmillan, Oct 12, 2010 - Fiction - 307 pages
5 Reviews
In fourteenth century London, Crispin Guest is a disgraced knight convicted of treason and stripped of his land, title and his honor. He has become known as the “Tracker”—a man who can find anything, can solve any puzzle and, with the help of his apprentice, Jack Tucker, an orphaned street urchin with a thief ’s touch—will do so for a price. But this time, even Crispin is wary of taking on his most recent client. Jacob of Provencal is a Jewish physician at the King’s court, even though all Jews were expelled from England nearly a century before. Jacob wants Crispin to find stolen parchments that might be behind the recent, ongoing, gruesome murders of young boys, parchments that someone might have used to bring forth a demon which now stalks the streets and alleys of London.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - avidmom - LibraryThing

After reading the last installment of Jeri Westerson's series, The Serpent in the Thorns, which had a pretty healthy dose of comedy throughout, I didn't expect this. It was a lot darker than the first ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - KeeslingMary - LibraryThing

I enjoyed this mystery immensely... I love the author 's attention to detail, love the hero, Crispin, as well as his young helper, Jack. I couldn't put I down, and I read it about a year ago. Didn't ... Read full review

Selected pages


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20

Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

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About the author (2010)

1 London, 1384
“HE’S STILL OUT THERE.” Jack Tucker leaned his head and shoulders out the window.
“Close the damn shutters,” growled Crispin. “It’s too cold in here as it is.”
“Sorry, Master,” said the boy, doing as bid. His ginger hair was dusted with snow. “It’s just that that man is still out there, looking up at us. Makes me a bit shivery.”
“The cold will do that.” Hunkered by their meager fire, Crispin held one hand toward the flames. The other was curled around a bowl of tart wine.
“He might be a client, sir.”
“He might be.”
“Why don’t you go look?”
Crispin drank the bitter liquid. Winter did not seem to bring him as many clients as the warmer months. Perhaps fewer crimes were committed in the winter and a “private sheriff” was not in the family finances when it came down to it.
The small room offered little comfort. Its few bits of rented furniture—a chair, a stool, a rickety table—stood in the center of unadorned walls. Crispin’s pallet bed was shoved against the wall near the hearth, and on the opposite side of the small fire lay a pile of straw, the place Jack tucked in at night. Four strides would take him to a chest by the door, which held Crispin’s change of stockings and braies and his few writing implements. He was lucky to have two windows, one facing the back garden and the one Jack had been leaning out of facing the Shambles. But “luck” was a relative term. Today, with London chilled like a frozen lake, two windows only offered more opportunities for an icy draft.
“Let me see, then.” Crispin rose with a bone-weary sigh and set the empty bowl aside. He joined Jack by the window, but instead of throwing open the shutter, he peered down through a crack in the wood that he usually kept stuffed with a rag.
Below, in the snow-painted street, stood a man in a long black gown. His dark beard was salted by time as were his bushy brows. His head was covered by a tight-fitting felt cap with flaps that covered his ears. And he was looking up at Crispin’s window expectantly, ignoring the occasional passerby in the street.
“He certainly seems determined about something,” said Crispin.
“Then why don’t he come up?” asked the boy, twisting his cloak across his chest.
“A very good question. Why don’t you go down and find out.”
“Me?” Suddenly the mystery did not need solving so urgently. “He might be a madman. He’s been there a straight hour and he hasn’t moved.”
“All the more reason to see what he wants. Go on now, Jack. If apprentice you wish to be, then you had best obey your master.”
“I knew that would bite me in the arse,” he grumbled. Securing his cloak, he marched toward the door. He took a firm grip of his knife sheath and looked Crispin in the eye. It was moments like these that Jack seemed so very young. Of course it was true. At twelve, his cheeks were still plump from childhood, and though his voice cracked a bit, it hadn’t yet deepened. “If I don’t come back, it’s your fault.”
“Shall I keep watch? Is an old man so much of a threat to you?”
“I’m going!” he replied sullenly, and slipped through the door.
But Crispin did keep watch through the chink, and saw Jack appear cautiously below. The man tore his gaze at last from Crispin’s second-storey window and stared at Jack. The creak of cart and hiss of wind made it impossible for Crispin to hear their quiet exchange, but he could well tell by Jack’s pantomime what he told the man. He appeared to be entreating him upstairs, but the man shook his head. It seemed that he was content to stand in the snow and merely gaze up at the window.
Crispin studied the man anew. “Hmpf. Now I grow curious.”
Footsteps at his door told him Jack had returned. The door opened. “Bless me,” said Jack, shaking the flakes from his cloak and stamping at the threshold. “He does want to talk to you, sir. But he will not come up.”
“Oh? Does he say why?”
“No, sir. He seems most stubborn about it. I told him that the Tracker was not in the habit of meeting strange men in the cold streets instead of his warm lodgings.”
No, indeed. He had no wish to leave the feeble warmth of his room, but the larder was decidedly bare. “It seems I have no choice but to humor this miscreant. Tell me, Jack. How did he seem to you? What was his character?”
He knew the boy liked to show off his growing skills, and on cue, Jack puffed up and hooked his thumbs in his belt. “Well, now. He is a man of middle years, well-spoken, neat and clean.”
“London or foreign?”
“Foreign. French, I think. His speech has got a light touch, if you get my meaning. He seems like a gentleman.”
“Then he’ll have the coin. Very well. I shall meet this mysterious man on the street.” Crispin buttoned his cloak tight, pulled his chaperon hood up over his head, and yanked open the frost-bitten door.
He trotted down the narrow stairwell, mindful of the icy last step, and when he reached the lane, he studied the man with steel-gray eyes. The man turned and measured Crispin but did not approach. Instead, he bowed. “Do I have the pleasure of meeting the great Crispin Guest?” The accent was soft but unmistakably French.
“ ‘Great’ is a matter of perspective. But Crispin Guest I am. And you, sir? You find your occupation by staring at my window. To what end?”
The man took a step closer. Crispin eyed his gown, a dark woolen robe cut in solemn lines and trimmed with black fur. His skin was pale and his beard grew past his chin but was not long enough to graze his chest. There, on the breast of his gown, Crispin observed something unexpected: a round, yellow patch carefully stitched into place.
The man saw Crispin eye it but did not comment. “My name is Jacob of Provençal.” He stepped closer. “I am a physician. From the continent.”
Crispin said nothing, waiting.
The man continued. “I have heard others speak of you, of this ‘Tracker.’ You find things. Lost things.”
“Indeed. It is my bread and butter.” His stomach took that moment to growl. The tips of his ears warmed.
The man smiled. “En effet. I am looking for a most important object. A dangerous one. It must be found before, well, it simply must. I beg that you come to my lodgings and we shall discuss it there.”
Crispin turned an eye to his window, knowing well Jack was spying on them. “And where are your lodgings?”
“At court.”
He hadn’t meant to, but Crispin stiffened. The man watched him with a judicious eye. “I . . . have also heard,” the man said carefully, “that you may not be welcomed there.”
“An understatement. It would be difficult my going to King Richard’s palace. But I know of another place that might suit. Someplace closer. Will you permit me to lead you to an alehouse?”
The man hesitated. He pressed a pale finger to his lip and glanced up at Crispin’s shuttered window before he lowered his head. He muttered something under his breath and lifted his face. “Very well, then. Lead me.”
Crispin tramped through the slushy snow with rag-stuffed boots. He did not wait for the sound of the man’s footfalls behind him, though they came anyway in a faint and reluctant step.
He tried to tread into the already dark hoof marks carved into the snowy streets, but his stride was not as long as the draft horses, and his boots were soaked and cold by the time he made the turn at the corner to Gutter Lane where the Boar’s Tusk cast its weighty shadow across the road. When he came to the door he waited. The man approached and Crispin opened it, gesturing him through. Crispin followed him in and the warmth, which his own humble lodgings lacked, clapped his cold cheeks hard. He felt his bones thaw as he moved into the dim room to find his usual seat near the fire, his back to the wall and facing the door. He gestured for the man to sit opposite him.
Jacob gathered his cloak and gown around him and sat gingerly on the bench.
It wasn’t long before a plump matron came to their table with a sweating jug in one hand and two clay bowls in the other. “Crispin,” she said with a wide smile.
“Eleanor.” Seeing her warm and friendly face touched off a spark of warmth within him. She and her husband, Gilbert, owned the Boar’s Tusk. They were the first to befriend him since he came to the Shambles some seven years ago.
“Will you share wine with me, Master Jacob?” said Crispin to the wary man.
Jacob shook his head and squinted at Eleanor’s expression. “I mean no offense to this good woman here, or to her establishment. But I may not partake of anything . . . here.”
Crispin’s eyes flicked to that yellow rouelle on the man’s breast once more before settling on his lined and drawn face.
Flushed, Eleanor merely poured a bowl for Crispin and left the jug before she scooted away. Crispin surveyed the room of uneven wooden tables with their hard-worn benches and stools, scouting for familiar faces or eavesdroppers. Some tables were lit with candles, their greasy odor lifting and blending with the smells of toasting logs, roas

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