Oswald De Lacy is again confronted with a gruesome murder on his Somershill estate. A baby is found impaled in a thorn bush. The suspicion falls onto John Barrow, a mentally ill man from the village who is said to have caused a large ‘butcher bird’ to escape from his dead wife’s coffin. Oswald gives the man protection, but when his sister’s two stepdaughters disappear, the villagers ask for his head. Meanwhile, the plague has caused his peasants to move to other villages for better wages, while the king forbids Oswald to give a raise.
The Butcher Bird starts a few months after the end of Plague land. At first, it seems like a straightforward murder mystery. A young baby, Catherine Tulley, is found dead and people claim to have witnessed a large bird taking it from its cradle. Soon there is talk of a so-called ‘butcher bird’. Oswald dismisses this as pure fabrication and is looking for the real culprit.
But there is more to the story than this murder alone, there are a lot of other plot lines that intertwine. I definitely recommend reading Plague Land first because some plot lines return. There’s the disappearance of the De Caburn sisters, his sister Clemence giving birth to a son Henry (a new heir for Versey Castle) and the fact that his work force is leaving the village. Eventually, Oswald travels to London, where we get a wonderful picture of this overcrowded, dirty and dangerous city in the 14th century.
In the middle of the novel, I thought to have worked out some things and was even a bit disappointed by some scenes, but Sykes still managed to surprise me in the end. The book felt more mature than I had thought at first. This is a light and entertaining series set in a dark age, but I loved how some more timeless themes were added. Sykes really manages to develop a strong historical setting. I’ll definitely continue this series. The next book ‘City of masks’ will bring us to Venice, a whole different setting.
Have you read this series? Do you have other historical mystery recommendations?