Title: Familiar Spirits
Author: Leonard Tourney
Series: Matthew and Joan Stock – #3
Publisher: Ballantine Books
... his manhood celebrated by the monstrous codpiece he wore. (p. 12)
Nits: As in Low Treason, Matthew Stock is described again as Argus of the hundred eyes. Not only do I doubt the reference as one someone of Matthew Stock’s class would recognize, the use of that description in a second book makes me cringe a little. It smacks of either laziness, or “aren’t I a clever writer?” And why does the magistrate go nameless the entire book?
Matthew and Joan Stock are back on home turf in Familiar Spirits. The town of Chelmsford is caught up in witch fever. The opening chapter is a description of the hanging of three people, one of them a witch. Tourney gets this atmosphere right, describing the delight of the spectators and the business-like demeanor of the gaolers and hangman.
Being accused of witchcraft was a nasty business, a veritable catch-22. To prove you weren’t a witch you would have to go through trials which would surely kill you, if you survived then you were definitely a witch and would be hanged (or burned). Horrible stuff.
And, as is usual in witchcraft trials, suspicion falls upon everyone associated with the witch. Especially after Ursula’s master dies all of a sudden, after her ghost has been seen in the window by the master’s wife.
Then, the master’s wife’s sister and her family are accused. A mob forms to drive the witches out, etc. etc. etc.
Matthew takes nothing at face value and is perplexed at the ghostly sightings of Ursula, the death, and the burning of the barn behind the master’s home where Ursula was purported to have conducted her tricks.
Superstitious townspeople are all calling for righteous living to be returned to with a speedy witch trial and hangings at the end. Only Matthew is unconvinced. Not because he doesn’t believe in witches, but rather, because the testimony given in Ursula’s trial makes no coherent sense.
Against the wishes of the townspeople, including the aldermen, Matthew continues to investigate. What he turns up is more sinister than witchcraft, and does not come from Satan. One man’s cover-up kills two more innocent people and nearly gets his wife and in-laws hanged.
Although Tourney’s pseudo-Elizabethan continues to bother me, and this is a fairly straightforward whodunnit, I am still charmed by Matthew Stock, and his wife Joan. In addition, there is the kind and stubborn Jane Crispin who speaks up in court for herself. Something no woman would have done, would be allowed. In fact, she states that she is doomed either way, so why shouldn’t speak up and address the absurdities of the witch trial? Especially, the “specialist” who brings his assistant along because the boy has himself once been possessed by demons and can point out those who are also possessed.
I suppose these absurdities are no more absurd than some of the political yammerings we suffer through today.