Tag Archives: Howard Matthews

The Case of the Curious Corpse

by Howard of Warwick.

Instead of reading the second book in the series about Brother Hermitage, the king’s reluctant investigator, I thought I would skip to the latest instalment in the series to see whether things have markedly improved.

In this tale, one of King William’s hostages, a Saracen called Umair, has been killed by an unknown assailant. The king is keen to make it known that he’s not responsible and sends for Brother Hermitage and his sidekicks, who quickly discover that the Saracen had allegedly been conducting reconnaissance missions for William, but was, in fact, quite chummy with the various factions opposed to the Normans from Hereward the Wake to the misspelt Aedgar Aetheling (Eadgar Æþeling). There’s no evidence that the king killed Umair or had him killed, and there’s no evidence to suggest that the Saxons, Vikings or Welsh had anything to do with it either. Who could it be? Brother Hermitage eventually works it out.

The book doesn’t get off to a good start. Some Normans have been sent to fetch Hermitage, but everyone thinks they’ve arrived for a battle, and this goes on for pages and pages and pages. This is followed by a chat with William and his right-hand man, Le Pedvin, but no one can tell whether the Normans are dining or fighting, and appear to be doing both in another prolonged scene. The word “prolonged” tends to describe a lot of this.

The problem is very much the character of Hermitage, who manages to solve the mystery in spite of being a clueless halfwit. His response to any situation is often a weak, pathetic, “Erm”, and he lacks the necessary traits to be decent antihero. Wat possibly has more going for him, and perhaps should’ve been the main character all along. Cwen, who is a new addition to the team somewhere between the first book and this one, seems to be there to ask pointed questions and make pointed remarks about what fate she’d like to see befall the Normans, but apart from that, she seems to have no purpose I can discern. I was expecting (from her name) that she’d be a prostitute, constantly embarrassing Hermitage by praising God in a loud and erotic fashion.

Having read the bookends of the Brother Hermitage series, I’ve developed no interest in reading the intervening novels in the series. I think this is the sort of thing that might’ve appealed to be when I was about 13 or 14, but I can’t help but feel that even I could do a little better than this myself.

The Heretics of De’Ath

By Howard of Warwick.

During a debate in the monastery of De’Ath’s Dingle, Brother Ambrosius drops dead. Moments later, Brother Athan enters the room, accusing Brother Hermitage of murdering Ambrosius simply because he was the only monk present at the time. The Abbot, who is a scary bastard, sends Hermitage off to Lincoln, who meets Wat the Weaver on the way, who takes an interest in the confused monk’s business. Hermitage is sent back to the monastery with Brother Simon, who has been appointed the King’s Investigator by the bishop’s man, Nicodemus, mainly because Simon an imperceptive, pointless busybody. When the trio return to De’Ath’s Dingle, they find the builders about which no one seems to know anything have arrived, and the overweight Earl of Northumbria is up to something on behalf of one of his younger sons. King Harold turns up just in time to sort things out before he pops off to Hastings to smack William of Normandy – and we all know how that went.

The writing is not the best. It’s a little like writing down a sketch for an idea for a story, but the notes have become the story. There seem to be too many people shouting at odd moments, which makes no sense. There are other occasions where the narrative jumps from one part to another as if Howard of Warwick put his pen down for a few days, but forgot that he needed to finish of the previous scene or write some transitional section. He also has characters saying, “What?” noticeably often even though this is only occasionally a pun on Wat’s name.

I’ll try the next volume or two in the series to see whether the quality of the writing improves, but can’t overly recommend the book.