Hill Of Bones, by the Medieval Murderers
The Medieval Murderers is a collaboration of mystery writers Karen Maitland, Susanna Gregory, Bernard Knight, Philip Gooden, and Ian Morson, and in this particular book the group has decided to tackle the myths and haunted nature of Solsbury Hill. What the result of all of this is is a linked collection of short stories related to murder mysteries and the like, and that is an appealing matter. Some of the stories are better than others, some of them are more murderous than others, but all of them are united by a shared appreciation of place. This allows the authors to work not only to discuss their own particular time period of greatest interest but also to choose to take the hints of previous writers as part of the inspiration for their own writing. The end result is a humorous one, in part, as the authors seek to turn their own separate offerings into a coherent and interesting whole and generally succeed at doing so. This book is a lot more enjoyable, I have to say, than any other works by Bernard Knight I have yet to read, indicating that he may go down easier in small doses. Some writers are like that, you know.
This particular book is about 400 pages long and it consists of a prologue, epilogue, and five acts. The prologue discusses how to young brothers from Somerset joined King Arthur’s forces for the battle at Mount Badon and some of the dramatic events of that journey. After that comes a story about how two people are ordered by King John to investigate the murder of an unpopular religious figure in hopes that they would fail to do so. After this there is a look at someone who fled from a shipwreck only to find themselves caught up in a dangerous plot. This particular plot, as it happens, involves a struggle between brothers and a burning desire for revenge. The fourth act then includes a mystery of an old man’s bad book of poetry that happens to be a treasury map and the intrigues that occur when the King’s Men travel to Bath. The fifth act discusses a plot that involves treasure hunting, the estranged wife of King George IV, and murder, as well as radical politics. Finally, the epilogue supplies a brief but humorous investigation of Solsbury Hill and what it uncovers.
One of the most interesting ties that all of these stories have together is Solsbury Hill itself and its reputation as being a haunted place, something that is referred to in several of the stories in this collection. Yet the stories themselves do not give any reason why it is that the hill should be haunted. We see plenty of people doing bad things on Solsbury Hill, and see plenty of treasure hunts there as well as historical investigations of the possibility that the place was the Badon Hill of Arthurian lore. But we do not see any actual haunting taking place except within the fevered imagination of some of the characters. Of course, the fact that the authors appear to be more or less rationalistic contemporary mystery writers suggests that it would be beyond their capabilities to write a story that had genuinely spooky elements to it. The mysteries that interest the writers are generally of the same sort of things, with religious people being hypocrites, people interested in magic being charlatans, and the like. This book is a cynical collection of mysteries where people behave cynically, which is a fitting testament of our own decadent times.