Rec a Series is a monthly post highlighting one of my favorite series, past or present. Here’s a genre I haven’t recommended yet: Mystery! And not just any mystery series. Nope, this one is set in England during the 14th century, during the Hundred Year’s War and just after the ravages of the Black Death. The lead detective is a Welshman, Owen Archer, so named for his skill with the bow during the war. An injury costing him his eye sends him back to England to learn a new role: spymaster for the Archbishop of York.
The Owen Archer Mysteries by Candace Robb
It has been years (decades) since I first read Apothecary Rose, the first in the series. I haven’t read them all, as it seems the author has self-published them after regaining her rights adding a few more. I think A Spy for the Redeemer was the last one I could find at the time. Now I see there are more! Whee! If you like historical mysteries with a hint of romance, I’d definitely recommend this series.
Robb explains Owen’s new career path well. He was the Captain of the Archers under Henry of Grosmont, first Duke of Lancaster, until he lost his eye. The Duke used him as a spy since he was familiar with the soldiers and had their trust and respect. When the old Duke died, believed to be of the plague which was making a sweep through England at the time, Owen had to choose between John Thoresby, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, and the new Duke, John of Gaunt. Silly him, he felt the Archbishop would be the better choice.
When the series begins, Owen is a little naive, thinks more like a soldier, and doesn’t admire Thoresby’s worldliness and easy moral stance. Still, he has a job to perform and his first for the Archbishop involves the deaths of two men—one of whom is Thoresby’s ward. Both died by poison after being treated by Nicholas Wilton, the local Apothecary. Owen plays up his injury (and his charm) and insinuates himself into the suspects’ apothecary as an apprentice. There is love, obsession, murder, mysticism, and even a hint of romance in the air. At the conclusion of the book, his role as spymaster is a bit more secure and leads him to other cases across the series.
Owen is an amazing protagonist. He’s intelligent, observant, and a quick study, but not to the point of being obnoxious or condescending like Holmes can be. He makes mistakes. Unlike most commoners of the time, he can read, though from what I remember it’s a rudimentary skill—think primary school. He grows with the series, in investigative skill and as a person, in a realistic way to both the events and the time period.
His “support staff” are introduced throughout the The Apothecary Rose and grow over the course of the series from mere acquaintances to close friends (and more!). Among these are those directly aligned with the Archbishop of York, John Thoresby, Lucie Wilton, the wife of Nicholas Wilton—the accused apothecary; Bess and Tom, owners of the York Tavern; Brother Wulfstan, an infirmarian at St. Mary’s; and Magda Digby, respected midwife and pagan riverwoman.
Robb knows her stuff when it comes to medieval England. She did PhD studies in Medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature (ABD, all-but-dissertation) so the details are excellent and factual. She is also a novelist, however, and does take some creative license with these details. The other good point to note is that you don’t need to be a lover of history to follow the books. Her details are accurate, but the story is what shines.
I’ve seen several comparisons of this series to the Brother Cadfael Mysteries, but I can neither confirm nor deny their similarity. I’ve never read Ellis Peter’s novels, so I couldn’t say. Now that I know there are some new books in the series, I’m off to load up my tablet. You should too (yours, not mine, though I really won’t complain)!!
Owen Archer Mysteries –
Number of Books: Ten
- The Apothecary Rose
- The Lady Chapel
- The Nun’s Tale
- The King’s Bishop
- The Riddle of St. Leonard’s
- A Gift of Sanctuary
- A Spy for the Redeemer
- The Cross-Legged Knight
- The Guilt of Innocents
- A Vigil of Spies
Number of Extras: One
- Maybe? Until I started typing this and searching for links, I wasn’t aware Robb had released more books in this series beyond A Spy for the Redeemer. Now there 3 more for me to devour and a short (very short, almost flash length at only 17 Kindle pages).