"1560 was...a difficult year."
And the years leading up to it were more difficult yet. The ruthless Queen Mary had been merciless toward religious dissenters, having more than 300 burned at the stake during her reign. By 1560, "Bloody" Mary had been two years dead, and Elizabeth I had acceded to the throne.
With beautiful period detail and enough facts woven through the fiction to make it read like truth, THE BONES OF AVALON will surely please all historical mystery fans.
John Dee, a doctor not of medicine but of science, walked a treacherous road that nearly got him hanged. With Mary playing the monarch, one's path was unstable and very narrow. Her subjects were condemned for simple, innocent remarks taken and twisted to evince an evil meaning. Dee's obsession with astrology and the occult could have lost him his life were it not for some crafty answers on his part. And soon, his connections to Queen Elizabeth, who looked to Dee for certain guidance, helped keep him out of prison.
"...Dee was lucky to survive the brief but bloody reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor....Caught between Catholic plots and the rise of a new Puritanism, he would feel no more secure than would Queen Elizabeth herself."
Now, with her legitimacy under assault, Queen Elizabeth asks Dee to accompany Lord Dudley to the village of Glastonbury, where it is said that the bones of King Arthur lie buried. If Dee and Dudley can persuade Glastonbury to give up its secrets, the queen may be able to silence her detractors. But when Dudley's servant is found brutally --- and, by all appearances, ritually --- murdered, a witch hunt is on. What was the motive for butchering this good man? Retribution? Robbery? Information? Or was it something more sinister?
Glastonbury itself, with its haunting abbey ruins, possesses an awful history of gruesome death. It witnessed the killing of its abbot a couple decades previous, for reasons that still remain muddled, along with two of his monks. What ghosts still remain? Possibly the ghost of Cate Borrow, dead wife of the local doctor, said to have been a witch and, therefore, summarily executed. Her daughter Nel has taken up the family healing business, so she walks a thin line with the local authorities. In this unenlightened era, medicine is viewed with dark suspicion and a wary eye. Except by John Dee. The lovely Nel instantly captures his heart. But has Dee been bewitched, or was it simply love at first sight? Whatever the cause, he becomes her fiercest advocate --- and guardian angel of sorts.
As the facts of the murder are slowly revealed, the horror of what the town has allowed and the monsters it has harbored come to light. But it is a time of brash accusations and speedy convictions without proof nor trial, when even the highest born must watch his step.
Students of this era in English history will find more to relish than the average reader. Still, the mystery compels the history, and the history fascinates. It may even compel Paul Rickman's audience to delve deeper into the Tudor reign. With beautiful period detail and enough facts woven through the fiction to make it read like truth, THE BONES OF AVALON will surely please all historical mystery fans.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on July 3, 2011