Justin de Quincy Mysteries #4: Prince of Darkness by Sharon Kay Penman

Read: 10 September, 2008

This is the fourth in Penman’s Justin de Quincy mystery series, but the first of her novels that I’ve read. In some ways, it was a shame because it gave me the feeling of falling into the story mid-way. The novel is definitely readable without having read any of the previous books, but since a lot of the characters are reappearances, I fear that I might know too much should I ever decide to read the previous novels in the collection. For those terribly curious, I started with this book because I found it for $2 at a Chapters inventory liquidation sale.

The fact that the order in which fate had me pick up the series is the biggest complaint that I can make about Prince of Darkness is quite telling. It was a fantastic novel with great characters. It was definitely one of those “can’t put it down” books – so much so that I missed my bus stop by about 20 minutes today while finishing it up. Justin is a delightful character – believable yet naive – making his relationship with his daughter heartbreaking.

The only weakness of the novel is how it deals with climactic scenes. There are a few parts where potential action is skipped over entirely and the final “catch the bad guy” scene felt somewhat limp compared to the build up it received. Certainly, Penman’s strength is in character, exposition, and presenting a living and utterly plausible world. It was an added bonus I felt that I recognized some of the Gieses’ books in her descriptions.

It was interesting the way Penman skips travel narration altogether. Justin will say that he wants to go to X location and the chapter ends. When the next chapter begins, he’s in X already. I don’t think I’ve ever seen travel handled quite so abruptly and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it yet. When the novel first opened, I found it confusing. I didn’t know if this was a flashback, a different set of characters, if I’d missed something. A couple times, I found myself having to read nearly a full page before I could confidently situate myself in the narrative. After the first couple chapters, though, I became accustomed to it and it no longer confused me. Once this happened, I somewhat enjoyed not having to let go of the action every time an exposition scene would have been found.

The mystery wasn’t as good as I would have hoped. There certainly was one, but there was no discernible method to the gathering of clues and the thinking out of the whoddunnits. It really didn’t matter all that much. I found myself so interested in the characters that I forgot about the mystery entirely.

In any case, it was a great novel. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Medieval historical novels, character driven novels, or political intrigue. Mystery lovers may be disappointed, however.

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