Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Nicholas Feast by Pat McIntosh

I read The Harper’s Quine, the first novel in Pat McIntosh’s series featuring Gilbert Cunningham and enjoyed it so I was glad to find The Nicholas Feast, the second book, not long ago.

I found this to be head and shoulders above the first which is usually the case in a serial. But that isn’t to put down The Harper’s Quine, which was a great novel. The Nicholas Feast takes place a few short months after the events in the first installment.

Gil Cunningham has returned to Glasgow University in 1492 for the Nicholas Feast. After a play performed by the students, one of the student actors is found dead in the university coalhouse, bound and strangled with his own belt.

Gil finds out that the dead man was more interested in extortion than his studies, collecting information that his fellows and faculty might pay dearly to keep quiet. The victim’s powerful and intimidating father and enemy of the Cunningham’s shows up in Glasgow demanding justice for his son and threatening to take his own brand of cruel justice if Gil doesn’t deliver the murderer after the funeral.

He has to work fast to meet the Montgomery’s deadline by since the entire University is suspect, his task seems monumental. Fortunately, he has the help of his friend Master Pierre and his daughter Alys, to whom Gil is betrothed. Alys is beautiful, in love with Gil and possesses an intelligent mind and wit. Unfortunately, Gil’s overbearing mother disapproves of the betrothal and is making her way to Glasgow.

Then a second murder occurs within the walls of the university. Gil is convinced the two deaths are connected although they appear to be separate incidents.

I enjoyed reading The Nicholas Feast but found it difficult in spots where McIntosh used Scottish terms or the vernacular. It took me a while to figure out that ‘yett’ meant ‘door’ or ‘gate’. The author also includes quote from medieval texts or medieval language that aren’t explained or interpreted. This doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book however. All clues are presented to the reader in English.

Despite the lack of an ancient Scottish-English dictionary, I loved seeing fifteenth century Glasgow coming to life. There was even a passing reference to Christopher Columbus since he began his voyage in the same year the novel takes place.

The Nicholas Feast is a change from the English monarchs that we all know and (kinda) love. McIntosh’s stories are also reminiscent of Susanna Gregory’s novels featuring Matthew Bartholomew set in fourteenth century Cambridge. Both are awesome and wonderful reads.

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