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    A PERSONAL DEVIL by Roberta Gellis (see her website)


    Forge, Tom Doherty, March 2001

    Nobody seems sorry about the murder of Bertrild, especially not Bertrild's husband Mainard. Still, even in twelth century England, justice will run its course and someone must be accused. When Mainard's mistress asks for her help, Magdalene can't resist. Mainard has been Sabina's one small glimpse of happiness and it woudl be a shame for him to be executed for a murder Sabina is certain he did not commit. If Magdalene is involved, Sir Bellamy (Bell) will too. He loves Magdalene but her profession as Madam tears at him.

    As Magdalene and Bell investigate, it appears more and more that someone did London a service in ridding it of Bertrild. It is clear that she was blackmailing a number of London's growing middle class with secrets learned from her late father's practice of swearing out false oaths. One of Mainard's five close friends must have committed the crime and all have plenty of motive, yet which of them would have framed Mainard in the process? Even the secrets Magdalene learns in her bawdy house don't seem to lead anywhere.

    Roberta Gellis (see more reviews of novels by Roberta Gellis) is a long-time master of historical romance and she brings the strong character-driven elements of romance to the historical mystery genre. Magdalene's fierce need for independence wars with her desire for Bell forming a romantic tension that strengthens the mystery plot. Gellis applies her historical research with a light touch letting the reader enjoy an authentic seeming feel of the twelth century without being bombarded by facts.

    The introduction of Diot into the novel hints at directions Gellis did not take--her only purpose seems to be letting Magdalene reveal a little of her past through internal dialogue and letting the reader know how kind Magdalene is. In this brief novel, the word count could have been better spent on character development for the five suspects. That said, A PERSONAL DEVIL is an extremely enjoyable read. Bell and Magdalene, in particular, are interesting and fully developed characters.

    Three Stars

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