Title: Hill of Bones
Author: The Medieval Murderers (Michael Jecks, Susanna Gregory, Bernard Knight, Ian Morson, Philip Gooden, and Simon Beaufort)
Narrators: Colin Mace
Length: 12.25 Hours
Publisher: Recorded Books
Review: “Book 7 in the series by British writers is united by locale. Solsbury Hill outside Bath is the site of five stories, a prologue, and an epilogue. Bernard Knight is a former pathologist best known for his Crowner John series. Ian Morson writes the William Falconer series. Philip Gooden features Nick Revill, one of Shakespeare’s players. Susanna Gregory writes the Matthew Bartholomew series set in the 14th Century. Karen Maitland focuses on the reign of King John and the Black Death. Philip Gooden’s prologue takes us to the age of King Arthur and his decisive battle against the Saxons fought on Solsbury Hill. Two young brothers join his army. Geraint, 12, is given a knife by an old blind woman who tells him he has second sight. The small knife has a handle carved like a bear, Arthur’s symbol. The knife comes in handy against a traitor bent on assassination. After the battle Geraint burins the knife on the hill. In Act One Susanne Gregory transports us to 1199 and political wrangling at Bath Abbey. The unpopular prior is found murdered on Solsbury Hill and Sir Symon Cole and his wife Gwenllian investigate. King John, who wishes to discredit Sir Symon, assigns the seemingly impossible task. Fortunately Gwenllian is a clever woman who uncovers the miscreant, who may not be human. The story is filled with venal priests, attacks, supposed miracles, and more death. A little knife plays a role as justice is done. Act Two by Bernard Knight takes place at Bath Abbey and concerns the theft of a gold chalice and a valuable pyx, a box used to hold the consecrated host during mass. A lay brother is falsely accused and a royal steward and a cat-catcher vow to save the man from hanging. The only clue is part of a sandal strap. More murders are done before justice is achieved on Solsbury Hill, where the stolen treasure is buried. Karen Maitland’s Act Three begins on Good Friday 1453 when a man emerges alive after a violent storm and ship wreck. At first he is thought to be a corpse lashed to the mast, but he was no sailor. It is pronounced a miracle and the man uses it to set up a scam as a prophet. William, the survivor, searches the faces of the dead sailors but does not find the face of his bitter enemy Edgar. He claims to be able to banish demons and offers to help the mad King Henry VI, who claims that his grandfather is trapped in a jeweled mirror. The sexton’s young son Marin follows William to become his disciple. They end up on Solsbury Hill with William’s group of about 20 believers. There they meet five wealthy girls and William seduces one. Martin finds a dead girl but he and William hide the body. William and Edgar meet in a dramatic scene on Solsbury Hill and the jeweled mirror is buried there. In Act Four Philip Gooden’s Nick Revill, a member of the King’s Men, is on tour in Bath. He is accosted by a young lady who asks a favor. Would he pretend to be the long-lost son of a dying man to bring the old man some peace? Nick agrees, beds the lovely wench, plays the son, gets a mysterious black book, and is followed and attacked. The son returns, a treasure map is discovered, and the players’ costumes save the day. Plenty of action but no murder. Act Five “A Deadly Dig” by Ian Morson finds petty thief, con man and amateur Egyptologist Joe Malinferno and his “assistant” Doll Pocket, a former prostitute, hired by the Duchess of Avon to unwrap a mummy for her guests on Solsbury Hill. They have escaped London for Bath in 1820 to avoid implication in the Cato Street Conspiracy, a group of radicals with whom Joe is acquainted. All goes well until that night when Joe and Doll are startled from sleep by a wail coming from the Duchess’s tent. They find a old woman they took to be a trollop quavering in bed terrified by the coffin of the mummy. Joe reassures her the 3,000-year-old body is harmless. Then he opens the box to discover the body of an Italian equerry with his throat slashed. They also discover that the old trollop is…let’s just say a member of the royal family of George IV. Joe and Doll investigate the murder and more but have mere hours find the killer. Bernard Knight wraps up the stories with an epilogue set on Solsbury Hill in the summer of 2010. A serial killer says he’s buried the body of a girl there so the police and some archaeologists are on a vigorous dig. They find among other things a small knife with a carved handle, human skeletons, the bones of a huge dog, a gold cup and a pyx, part of a mirror, and a mummy. As it did in the prologue, the small knife plays a vital role. And as one character says of Solsbory Hill, “The damned place must be cursed.” British actor of stage, screen and television, Colin Mace’s narration of this monumental work is brilliant. His accents are convincing (German, Welsh, Cockney, etc.) and he gives each story the appropriate full-voiced presentation. Some of stories work better than others, but the book is a treat for fans of medieval murder.
Reviewer: Janet Julian, Sound Commentary