The Poisoned Serpent

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9780060192396: The Poisoned Serpent

Bestselling author Joan Wolf is back with her eagerly anticipated second novel of murder and mystery in medieval times.

It is the winter of 1140 in Norman England, and the country is embroiled in a bitter civil war, with cousin against cousing in a battle for the crown.

Caught in the midst of this is Hugh de Leon, heir to an earldom. In addition to the political turbulence, Hugh has problems closer to home. The Lady Cristen, who holds Hugh's heart, is not highborn enough to be his wife. Instead, Hugh's uncle, Guy, has arranged a marriage with the comely but spoiled heiress, Elizabeth de Beaute, whose father has just been granted the earldom of Lincoln. The two fortunes combined would give the de Leons unparalleled power.

Scant days after Guy's announcement, the new earl is murdered, and Hugh's friend Bernard stands accused of the deadly deed. Therein lies Hugh's dilemma. He must elope with Cristen before Guy can stop them from marrying. Yet, while his happiness hangs in the balance, Hugh cannot let his friend die a wrongful death.

It is up to Hugh to expos the real killer, someone so calculating and brutal, someone so chillingly smart, that he has silenced all witnesses and covered his tracks. And Hugh must be careful, for both his sake and Cristen's, that when he grabs the serpent by its tail, he, too, does not get bitten.

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Review:

Joan Wolf appeared on the medieval mystery scene with No Dark Place, which introduced readers to Hugh de Leon, a young 12th-century Norman accustomed to living by his wits, who unexpectedly discovers that he is heir to the powerful Earl of Wiltshire--and must grapple with the complications that accompany a lightning-fast rise in station. Since Hugh, however, is (of course) a natural paragon of grace, strength, and beauty, readers shouldn't worry about his ability to adapt. What they should worry about is the sad tendency for his nearest and dearest to get themselves into scrapes that only Hugh can get them out of.

In The Poisoned Serpent, Bernard Radvers, loyal friend to Hugh's late foster father, stands accused of murdering Gilbert de Beauté, Earl of Lincoln and pompous fool. Hugh feels the blow all the more sharply because of the motive attributed to Radvers: to help Hugh--declared by his uncle as betrothed to Gilbert's lovely and self-centered daughter--succeed to the earlship. Hugh's investigation leads him into the tangle of treacherous alliances that define English society during a civil war that pitches knight against knight, where loyalty can be bought with a title, and silence with a knife. He must face a phantasm from his past as well: the charismatic Richard Canville, son of the Sheriff of Lincoln. Hugh knows that Richard's handsome face hides a cold heart; does it also hide a murderous intent?

Wolf's characters are generally well-sketched; Cristen Haslin, whom Hugh loves deeply, is particularly appealing. Strong-willed and pragmatic, she is determined to help Hugh discover the identity of the murderer. The atmosphere of the novel, however, carries none of the persuasive, seemingly effortless detail popularized by Ellis Peters, whose Brother Cadfael mysteries have both charmed and educated readers for years. Wolf is too intent in her focus on the struggle between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, challenger to the throne; the fight is on every mind and on every tongue--but Wolf never moves beyond the most simplistic description and analysis of the rivalry. That said, the relationship between Hugh and Cristen should overwhelm even the weakest of political plots; it is a partnership that augurs well for future novels in the series. --Kelly Flynn

About the Author:

Joan Wolf lives in Milford, Connecticut, with her husband and two children. In her spare time she rides her horse, walks her dog, and roots fanatically for the New York Yankees and UConn Huskies.

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