After a career in TV production Helen Bettinson recently ditched a long commute around the M25 in order to concentrate on reading, and perhaps even writing, crime fiction.
The first in a new series of Dark Ages mysteries, The Killing Way is set in Lord Arthur’s castle on the eve of his being elected King. If internal squabbles among the gathered Celtic nobility and the threat of Saxon encroachment aren’t enough to unsettle the camp, the discovery of a serving girl’s mutilated body raises tempers to boiling point. Arthur calls on a trusted former comrade-in-arms, Malgwyn ap Cuneglas, to solve the riddle of the murder before his aged mentor, Merlin, is wrongly condemned for the crime.
Malgwyn is our narrator, a bitter, alcoholic, one-armed scribe who loves and hates Arthur in equal measure. The killing touches a raw nerve in Malgwyn, for the murder victim is the younger sister of his wife, herself slain by the Saxons some years previously. And as is to be expected in such tales, the detective finds himself in a race against time, for if he does not wrap up the mystery within a couple of days the warrior lords will not only lynch Merlin but lose faith in Arthur.
The premise behind The Killing Way is simple and attractive. Here is a rousing chapter from our island story, a period when Christian ideals and Pagan pragmatism were at loggerheads, and Saxons, Celts and Picts fought savagely for control of the land the Romans had left behind.
Sadly Anthony Hays’ book does not do it justice. The characters are caricatures and the plot formulaic. Such shortcomings would matter less if the setting was more convincing. This reader may not be in position to criticise the historical accuracy of the novel but has the confidence to recognise a novel that failed to engage at any level.