Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chaucer and the Doctor of Physic by Philippa Morgan

I know that historical mysteries with a famous figure in them are quite popular, but at least for me, there must be a reason why the famous person is being used. To push them across the page like a chess pawn only to find they sit on the second rank for 90% of the game, er, book, makes no sense to me and leaves me cheated.

So it goes with this book, which only seems to have Chacuer on the scene to attract people's attention, like it did mine. if you're hoping for a Dectective Chaucer, a very plausible idea in my opinion, you'll need to look elsewhere. Chaucer hates his assignment, doesn't contribute to the solving of the case (with the exception of one single throwaway line almost at the very end), and spends most of the book rehashing the story so far about three times more often than necessary and whining about how he's clueless as to what to do.

The plot would have worked if it had not been so layered in actors running across the stage. A possibly powerful elixir is stolen by a greedy relative, and misfortune follows it everywhere, right into a trade agreement with England and Genoa. Chaucer is sent to fix the problem, though he doesn't know the problem involves something serious enough to kill for. Soon he's in a country town as the unwanted city folk guest. Will he be able to stay alive long enough in a place stacking ever higher with bodies? See what I mean? It's a pretty cool idea. The trouble is in the execution.

The book has so many repetitions it makes me wonder if it was trying to hit a page count. Everything is spoon-fed to the reader except for the "how caught" which ends up being a single gotcha moment buried amongst the dreck. I admit I missed it, but that was because I was bored. By the time you've been stopped in the plot to be inside the head of yet another character (I think we get fed the perspective of every single person in the book, almost down to the walk-on servants), it's hard to keep track of anything that matters.

That was another problem--too many people to keep track of, almost none of whom were even needed--and some of those unnecessary people were supposed to be main characters, making this an even bigger problem. The book starts with a murder far away and ends with a murder closer to Chaucer's interests--but lost mine somewhere along the way.

Honestly, this is a short story masquerading as a book and needed heavy editing to even be passable. I'd have liked it more without Chaucer, and I don't think that's what the author was going for. There's better mysteries out there, and some of them even use famous people (like the ones with Groucho Marx, to name a series I like). Seek out those instead, and make your Chaucer the classical one that writes all the words in funny spellings.

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