Here’s the short review I wrote for The Red Hill on Goodreads. Below that you will find a more thorough review.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoy reading a good mystery now and again. Reading a mystery in an historical setting is a real pleasure, especially when the author can bring that setting to life in their book. David Penny managed to do that. Crossing the lines of religion and culture, Penny takes you through a thrilling ride. Exploring the darker aspects of politics in Moorish Spain around the time of Ferdinand and Isabela, Penny’s characters of Thomas and Jorge learn a lot more about life than either one ever wanted to know. With twists and turns that will leave you wondering until the end who-done-it. I’m looking forward to reading other Thomas Berrington stories.
In Depth Review: To be honest, when I started reading this book I wasn’t sure what to expect. I enjoy historical fiction and mysteries, as I said above. But I had never read a mystery that dealt with the social mores of Muslims in an historical time period. So it was a new experience for me. One that I did enjoy!
David Penny appears to have done some decent research to get his characters right. The sociopolitical aspects of their lives are just as important as their cultural mores in this story.
The main character of Thomas, a surgeon, is a transplant from England, trying to forget the life he had left behind. I don’t want to say why, that would spoil part of the book! His friend, who becomes his associate in the search for a killer, is a eunuch. Jorge has a history that could have been explored more, but I understand that happens in the second book of the series. There are several secondary characters that do play important roles in the story. From the former concubine gifted to Thomas by the Sultan to the Captain of the Guard and General of the Army. Only one or two named characters are of purely tertiary importance to the story, but with more books to come, they might play a more important role that I think.
I enjoyed the fight scenes, they were well written and not confusing. I point that out because sword play can be confusing to write, let alone read. Penny did fairly well making it clear which character was doing what in the fights without being over burdened with unnecessary descriptors or confusing use of gender pronouns. All of which is hard to do without losing the thrill of the fight. Penny’s fight scenes are definitely thrilling to read.
Like most books anymore, there is a hint of romance throughout the story. Unlike many, though, Penny does not dwell on the romances. Yes, romances. He makes it evident that certain characters have romantic ties and that they play a role in the story, but he does not bog the reader down with flowery prose or explicit sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong, there is sex! But it furthers the story instead of takes away from the plot.
WEARING THE EDITOR’S HAT while reading was not my intention. I was taking a break from writing my own fiction and reading others’ works for editorial review, so I wanted to just enjoy this story. That said, I did detect a couple of minor errors. Probably stuff I would have missed on a second or even third editorial run-through. I do not blame the author, nor the publisher. I don’t even blame the editor. Mistakes can sneak by even the most cautious of editors.