The Noose’s Shadow (Master Mercurius Mysteries #4) by Graham Brack

‘My room is cold in winter.  It has always been so, but now that I am over eighty years old, I feel it all the more keenly.’

Master Mercurius may be an old man, but he is full of memories from the past.  And, in this novel, he is remembering a case he solved in Leiden, The Netherlands in 1680.  It is a few years after his successful trip to England when he is approached by Sara, a woman whose husband Jaco has been accused of murder.  Sara has heard of Master Mercurius’s success in solving an earlier case in Delft and wants his help.  She is convinced that Jaco is innocent.

But someone has murdered the farmer named Wolf.  He was found stabbed to death outside his home not long after he and Jaco had words.

Master Mercurius investigates.  He soon finds that nobody liked Wolf, but who would murder him and why?  Mercurius needs to work quickly if he is to save Jaco from the noose.

‘Have you found his killer, Mercurius?’

‘Not exactly.’

‘This is a university, Mercurius.  We deal in precision.  The plausible answers are yes and no.’

‘I’m a lecturer in the Faculty of Theology, Rector.  “Not exactly” is common parlance there.’

Mercurius, despite distractions which sometimes take the form of attractive young women, as well as frequent red herrings to distract the reader, investigates.  There are several potential suspects and Mercurius is conscious, as he meets and questions them, that time is passing.  All the (admittedly circumstantial) evidence seems to point to Jaco. Can Mercurius be mistaken about Jaco’s innocence?

This is a terrific fourth instalment in the Master Mercurius series.  I love his asides as he examines his own conscience and motivation and enjoy the way in which the story unfolds.  Mercurius is a likeably human minister and a priest.

‘You see, when we hear stories that are nearly identical, our nature is to try to harmonise them.  We concentrate on what unites them, and therefore we construct one narrative that leads to one conclusion.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith