Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Personal Devil, by Roberta Gellis (author), Nadia May (reader)


Blackstone Audiobooks, ISBN 9780786181889, January 2005

This is the second Magdalene la Batarde mystery, Gellis's 12th-century London whoremistress who protects her women and caters to a clientele who can pay enough to keep them in comfort. With her clientele, and with the Bishop of Winchester as her landlord (she rents the Old Priory Guesthouse as her whorehouse), she has a much wider range of contacts and potential allies than the average whoremistress.

She also has more education and culture than the average whoremistress, but we only gradually learn bits and pieces of her background to help explain this. In this second entry in the series, one of Magdalene's former whores, the blind Sabina, is now established as the mistress of the saddle maker, Maynard. Maynard's face is disfigured by an ugly birthmark, but Sabina, being blind, sees only his kind and gentle nature and his strong and graceful body.

All is well until Maynard's appallingly nasty, vicious wife, Berthild, is found dead, murdered, in the yard of Maynard's shop.

While no one actually regrets Berthild's death--in fact, most have to suppress an unseemly display of glee--the awkward truth is that her sheer nastiness gave Maynard an excellent motive to kill her. Sabina, terrified for Maynard, rushes back to Magdalene to seek her help in clearing Maynard.

Clearing Maynard, to a reasonable degree of certainty, turns out to be the easy part. The problem is figuring out which of the vast number of people in Cheapside and elsewhere who had solid reasons to do so, really did kill her. Most of the best candidates are Maynard's fellow members of the Bridge Guild--his neighbors and friends in the East Cheap market area.

Gellis leads us through an intricate mystery, with each layer peeled back revealing a new layer. The members of the Bridge Guild each have their own hidden secrets, which could have legal consequences of varying degrees of severity. Berthild turns out not to have been just generally nasty, but a blackmailer.

This is a very character-based story, with the complexities of Berthild's murder only one of the threads that make it up. The Bishop's knight, Sir Bellamy, and Magdalene struggle with the tensions of their mutual attraction and his discomfort not only with her profession, but with her independence. Deot, the new whore recruited to take Sabina's place, tries to adjust to a far better life than she's had since circumstances forced her into whoredom. Sabina and Maynard agonize over what their new relationship will be, now that Berthild is gone.

It's a satisfying mystery, an engaging story, and an excellent addition to the series that began with A Mortal Bane.

Recommended.