‘So where, you fortunate man, is your charming wife Gelis?’ asked Anselm Adorne, seating himself two places from Nicholas at Master Lamb’s table shortly afterwards. Behind them, Albany’s trumpeter let off a blast, and Julius, in the middle, began cheerfully to cut up his meat.Fifth in the series of eight novels about Dunnett's fifteenth-century hero Claes van der Poele, now rebranded Nicolas de Fleury, on a canvas that takes us from a long first section in Scotland at the court of the young James III, to Cyprus, Alexandria and the monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai. I must confess that I felt Dunnett was not fully in control of her material here. The core of the narrative is the feuding between Claes on the one hand and his estranged wife Gelis and his secret father Simon de St. Pol on the other. I was not convinced by Gelis's means or motivation; her end game is not at all obvious, and she seems to have almost supernatural means of keeping Claes apart from his son and his treasure (and at one point his liberty in a gruesome torture scene). Claes meantime has acquired his own supernatural powers of divining the location of sought objects and people by pendulum - though this only works as effectively as the plot needs it to. The attention to local historical and geographical detail is still very worthwhile and engaging, but I hope the next book (which I have ordered, naturally) is more coherent.
This was the top book on my non-genre poll from the end of last year. Next on that list is A Delicate Truth, by John Le Carré.