Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Howard of Warwick's THE GARDROBE OF DEATH

One extremely common, perhaps even required, element of the historical mystery genre, at least since Caleb Carr took it on, is that of a particular kind of skepticism about the detective/hero's newfangled ways. Usually it's a matter of whatever science is cutting edge at the time, as Carr's hero is an early adopter of things like fingerprinting, at which the establishment still scoffs. Sometimes this is played for laughs, sometimes it is not.

In Howard of Warwick's Brother Hermitage series, it's played for laughs. Big, loud belly laughs that shake chairs and startle dogs. Because the newfangled science employed by Mr. Of Warwick's hero is reason itself, and the simple peasants, soldiers, servants and nobles of early Norman England* are such complete strangers to it that, well, let's just say if a woman weighed the same as a duck they'd try to build a bridge our of her.

The Gardrobe of Death , the second novel in Mr. Of Warwick's series, is thus already guaranteed to be pretty damned funny, just like its predecessor, because, in my book, horrible reasoning never stops being funny, but then there's the book's premise: in England's crappiest castle, surrounded by the least competent band of "guerrillas" the Saxons have to offer and ruled by the Normans' very worst specimen, a murder takes place in the crappy castle's crappiest place: its crapper. Or in the parlance of the day, its "gardrobe", a room that usually juts out from a high tower over a pretty good slope, to let the crap that emerges from its holey seats roll downhill.

Only this crapcastle's builders didn't understand that, so just put some seats with holes in them above the holes in the floor, so all that is produced there just plops down into the room below. Where the castle's priest lives. Or lived until said priest realized what had happened.

The priest hasn't lived in that room, and it hasn't been cleaned out or even opened, for years, by the way. Yeah.

And in said masterpiece of sanitation, late one night, a visiting Norman V.I.P. is murdered. By taking an arrow right up his poop chute. Insert Tywin Lannister joke here, I suppose, but I reckon this murder is way worse in every way. 

And funnier.

So yeah, in addition to the relatively highbrow yuks of reading the dialogue of characters with absolutely no grasp of abstract thought or language (or are just really stupid as when, for example, the Lord of the Manor first sees the victim and says "My god, no wonder he's dead. How on earth did he eat a whole arrow?" and then is flabbergasted when someone suggests that the arrow is on the way in, not out), we also have literal yucks. Lots of them.

This is not a book for people who get easily grossed out, is what I'm saying.

But if you can handle all the poop humor, this is another delightfully silly read, as well as being the ultimate Locked Room mystery. Think about it: with the room situated as I've described, how did someone shoot an arrow right up the bunghole of someone hunkered down on the seat of ease? Who could possibly solve such a disgusting mystery?

Only Brother Hermitage, the lowly monk with an eye for detail and next to no clue about social interaction, and his sidekick Wat, who as a dealer in pornographic tapestries is maybe the only person in Norman England with any social mobility at all.

It's tightly plotted, it's gross, it's shameless, it's ridiculous, and you'll absolutely love it. If you can handle the nasty, smelly truth of it. And if you can't, what are you reading historical mystery farce for?

*We're taking very early, like right after William the Bastard hopped the English Channel and changed his name to the Conqueror.

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