Anne-Marie Amiel knows the area around St. Edmundsbury, modern-day Bury St. Edmunds, very well. She lived in a village near there for several years after graduating high school in New Zealand and returning to her native England.
Anne-Marie is a history nut and wanted to study archaeology in university after serving in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. She ended up studying law but never gave up her love of historical research. Crusader’s Way is the first, but by no means the last, of her St. Edmundsbury Mysteries series. The second book in the series, Penitent’s Sword, is scheduled for release in the spring of 2022 to be followed at the end of the year by the third installment.
Anne-Marie currently lives in Columbus, Georgia. She is a proud doggie mum, loves to participate in musical theater, and follows the great English tradition of drinking hot tea and knitting. She is no Miss Marple, but she does love a good mystery! For more information on upcoming books, what she is reading and doggie updates, follow her on Instagram (@annemarieamiel_author).
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''Crusader's Way'' by Anne-Marie Amiel is a valiant first attempt to join the ranks of the many previous creators of Medieval fiction in the canon of Mystery and Detection. This is a well established and immensely popular genre with a number of acclaimed practitioners of the form; Ellis Peters, for example, is a name that readily springs to mind with the highly successful series of 'Brother Cadfael' books. This particular example of the form is set in the early thirteenth century in the year 1204 and in the reign of King John, he of the less than glorious reputation. The location of this book and the events that follow, clearly designed for a young adult readership, is the town of Edmundsbury [now known as Bury St Edmunds] The Abbey itself and the town and its immediate surroundings. It is a gentle corner of England for which the writer clearly has a clear affection for and affinity with. The place was venerated throughout the Middle ages as a Holy Shrine in veneration of the Martyr Saint Edmund, in whose name many miracles were performed and was an important English focus of religious belief and education.
Anne-Marie Amiel has provided the reader with a loving map representation of the town and of the Abbey itself and each Chapter opens with an extract from the journal kept by Brother Jocelin of Brakelond, the then 'Guest Master' at the Abbey. He, like Abbot Samson and Prior Herbert and certain others are real figures of the period and who appear frequently in the narrative. The writer has also very thoughtfully provided a glossary of terms which the uninitiated reader will find invaluable.
Aileen is the eldest of four children, the daughter of a respectable dyer and cloth merchant. She is a sempstress of some ability. It is September 1st in the year of 1204 and it is the day she begins work for the first time at the Abbey of Saint Edmund under Mistress Taylor, in charge of the care and maintenance of all the linen at the Abbey. It is a momentous day for the Abbey for altogether different reasons, it the day of the arrival of a Holy Relic to be delivered by a Crusader, Sir Henri du Lac, recently returned from a Crusade to the Holy Land for the further glorification of God and the Abbey, The Holy Relic, is in this case a fragment of the True Cross upon which Christ was crucified. To a person with a viewpoint of the twenty first century, it is often almost impossible to understand the level of reverence and devotion such Holy relics inspired. The Abbey and the entire community is shocked and rocked, therefore, by the news that the Knight Sir Henru Du Lac has been attacked and knocked senseless. The Holy Relic has been stolen. It is only a very short time before the finger of accusation is pointed at the very small remaining Jewish community, now severely reduced by a previous anti Jewish outbreak and expulsion some years earlier to three families in the nearby village of Farnham. Aileen has a Jewish friend from childhood called Ruth. Fearing for the safety of her friend and the Jewish community, Aileen, the young new employee at the Abbey takes it upon herself to solve this mystery of the missing relic, feeling she is well suited for the task on the grounds that she is young and totally unimportant and thus unlikely to arouse suspicion or undue concern. In pursuit of this laudable task she enrols the assistance of another childhood friend and ardent admirer, Robert, the son of a much respected and prosperous goldsmith. Together the pair set out to ensure the safety of their Jewish friends by returning the missing relic to its rightful place. They set about the task by cautiously and painstakingly questioning various people [often from a class widely diverse to their own humble stations in life] and meeting up at regular intervals to exchange information thus gathered. In this way they painstakingly piece together the whole tangled mystery. This is the substance of ''Crusader's Way''. It is, of course, utterly self defeating for any reviewer of books to narrate the sequence of a mystery novel to its conclusion, so none will be offered here.
What the author offers the reader, then, is an easy to read and enjoyable account of the events outlined above. It is a light and entertaining view of the English Middle Ages which offers no real insights into the reality of the period, the ignorance, violence and squalor of the times. And, indeed, why should it? For this is not the purpose of this book; it is a Medieval mystery - and this it achieves admirably! This is a book that fulfils all the prerequisites of the necessary formula and, as such, will certainly achieve a wide and appreciative readership, a following - as further books in the series are scheduled.
Each of Aileen and Robert's discoveries, their leads and false leads are compared and discussed, leading them ever nearer to the truth behind the missing relic. The mystery is indeed a deeper one than a matter of simple theft, albeit of a sacred relic. It takes the reader back all the way to events in the Holy Land itself. Both Aileen and Robert display a strength of character only previously suspected, and admirable qualities of resilience and bravery in the face of the threat of physical danger. Aileen also displays a depth of comprehension way ahead of her years and background [and, in fact, of the times]. Speaking of the ever present rift between the Christians and the much maligned and abused Jewish communities and the inevitable clash of faith and dogma, she observes: It was important that they [the Jewish community] see that Christians follow a God of love, not hate. It has always seemed very strange to me that we are ordered to go out and bring people to Christ, but that many think we can do that by hating others. How do we show them Christ's love, when all we do is hate?'' This, of course, is a very modern sentiment.
At the end, in a dramatic 'denouement' that takes place in the very Chapel of the Shrine of the Martyr itself, and with a most likely unique example of cooperation between Jews and Christians, the whole puzzle falls into place and the guilty party revealed. Aileen, of course, is widely praised for her efforts and, accompanied by the ever admiring Robert, sets off for a further adventure in her new role of a more than capable sleuth.
“Crusader's Way” by Anne-Marie Amiel receives 3.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company