Blue Blood by
hbk out April 00
Published by Gollancz
Given the burgeoning number of historical mystery writers in Britain, it is interesting to see one from France, albeit in translation. Viviane Moore is a Parisian journalist, with, like many of us, an interest in the twelfth century. Indeed, the period of this book is 1135-45, exactly the same as Ellis Peter's Cadfael! Though the endpaper does not list any other books by Ms Moore, there are hints in the text that at least one other mystery with the same sleuth has been published.
The central figure is a wandering Breton knight, Galeran de Lesnevan, who seems to be on chatting terms with most of the nobility of France, including Eleanor of Aquitaine, when she was still married to Louis VII, before she changed sides and married our Henry II.
The story is set in Chartres, when the cathedral was being rebuilt after a disastrous fire and obviously Mme. Moore knows her medieval Chartres as well as her French history. There is a sketch map of Chartres, though the some of the vital bits of the old city are obscured by being bound into the gutter of the pages.
I cannot reveal the plot, but I have to say that if this is typical of French historical whodunnits, then they are rather more gloomy than the average UK variety - the ending is reminiscent of Hamlet. The translation is by Rory Mulholland, who has done an excellent job. Almost inevitably, something is lost in any translation, unless the translator is an even better writer than the original author, but this book is good. There are a few rather stilted bits of dialogue, but thankfully this avoids the phoney 'olde worlde' flavour that spoils some historical fiction. Her descriptions of the place are evocative, warts and all, especially the street scenes. However, it seems that the French in the 12th C. were cleaner than the English, as Galeran seems to wash a lot - when he arrives at his friend's house, he has a hot bath and "neatly folded towels lay on the chest". This is rather different from my notions of that century - my own Crowner John only washes once a week!
There is a short medieval lexicon and historical notes at the back, but what is unique in a mystery novel - and might itself sell quite a few copies - are nine full recipes of the dishes and drinks mentioned in the text! So if you want to drink Hippocras or eat Galimafree, read the exploits of Chevalier Galimard!
- Author of the highly acclaimed Crowner John series set in Medieval Devon)