The Killing Way by Anthony Hays

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The Killing Way by Anthony Hays

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: It's AD 458 and a grisly murder has been committed. Elderly warrior Malgwyn has been ordered to investigate by charismatic Lord Arthur.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 272 Date: November 2011
Publisher: Corvus
ISBN: 978-0857890054

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Post-Roman invasion and Great Britain shows the signs of a beleagured nation. And straight away Hays gives us an historical flavour - Saxons, Picts and names such as Ambrosius Aurelianus are mentioned early on in the book.

The main character, Malgwyn ap Cuneglas has known murder and violence in his long life with lines leaving us in no doubt as I smiled at each Saxon throat I cut. But even that was not enough to quell his anger at the loss of his beloved wife. Unable to come to terms with her death and also the death of his only daughter, he allows his brother and wife to look after young Mariam.

Battle has left Malgwyn with only one arm and now, getting on in years, he's a sorry sight indeed. Living alone and also lonely. His grisly exterior and gruff manner ensures he has few friends. But would-be leader Arthur knows his old friend inside out. He knows him to be a good and trusted ally. So the astute Arthur has sound reasons for involving Malgwyn in finding out who would murder an innocent young woman (her body has recently been found locally). She was related to old Malgwyn so it's difficult for him to refuse.

Essentially, this is a detective story with a rather unorthodox 'detective' tramping through swamps, woodland and Dark Age terrain. Hays has a good entertaing style so I didn't find it difficult at all to get involved with the characters and the story. Some of the Dark Age names may cause a little confusion in the beginning due to their similarity, so it does keep readers on their toes somewhat.

The language also is very reader-friendly but with a good nod to the era which lent a rather charming air to the book overall. We get a flavour of the history but Hays doesn't dwell on it. What's important are the characters: the friction between certain individuals, the lust for some of the women, the rivalry between the men etc. All good stuff and for the first part of the book I was enjoying it.

Just like many a good detective story the murder weapon is found by the body. But as Malgwyn digs deeper, the whole situation becomes more complex, more muddied. For example, the blood on the murder weapon is that of a very elderly local man, but he claims he's innocent. Why, then, will very few believe him?

But I have to admit that towards the middle part of the book I felt as if the story itself ran out of steam a little and lost some of its oomph.

We're given some nice contrasts between how the poor people live and then that of the luxurious lifestyle of Arthur. He calls a magnificent castle his home with its sturdy doors, Roman-style gates and guards on look-out (just in case, there are always those who wish to engage in battle).

There's a nice recurring situation with the 'new' Christianity. Many are simply not convinced, preferring to acknowledge their pagan gods. The Druids seems to be causing Arthur a few sleepless nights.

As I didn't really warm to the second part I would say that I half-enjoyed this book. Definitely a book of two halves for me. A nice idea in terms of the time period but the plot itself fell short for me. I also felt that in terms of characterisation, it was a little weak at times. I didn't really feel as if I really knew or cared about most of the characters.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Dark Fire by C J Sansom.

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