In England, 1324, a dead body is found in a hole in an unrepaired road in Dartmouth on the same day that a half-burnt merchant ship is brought into the harbor. And a knight is asked by his master to go there to find a Frenchman who is fleeing the realm.
You can't judge a book by its cover, but you certainly can by its title. Death Ship of Dartmouth--book 21 in a 32-book medieval mystery series featuring two friends--should be enough to sum up how this book will turn out. This is B material, through and through. The unsatisfying plot is overly convoluted in its telling. Not that it is complex, just that the telling of it is rather meandering and heavy on exposition. And it is dialogue-heavy, while the narration is limited simply to what people are doing, saying, and thinking. Yes, thinking. It's that kind of novel.
Two redeeming features would be the characters and the history. Despite all its many flaws, the characters do have interesting personalities. As it is a multi-character, multi-subplot novel, nothing gets fleshed out very much, but we do come to an understanding of these people, even if the motions they go through are frustrating. The historical setting, too, is surprisingly well done. In fact, I'd say this is its single greatest strength. Not that it is all-encompassing, but it does put the reader firmly in the time and place. The specific geography of the port town not so much so, but certainly life in England in the early 14th century.
This book is not on the level of Patrick O'Brian regarding historical novels, it is not on the level of James Clavell regarding multi-character, multi-subplot writing, and it is not on the level of Martin Cruz Smith regarding dialogue, plot, and setting. If you don't have a strong interest in the Middle Ages, then best give this one a miss. However, if you do, and you're willing to put up with the imperfections of the fiction, then it's worth it. I'll probably give Michael Jecks series on the Hundred Years' War a try next, though, to see how that goes.
Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
Published June 1, 2006 by Headline Book Publishing.