The Bookseller’s Tale

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by Ann Swinfen

Any reader who has ever stroked the tooled leather cover of an old book or fallen in love with historical fiction will enjoy The Bookseller’s Tale.

At its heart is a centuries-old, Irish illuminated copy of the Book of Psalms; a promising scholar and gifted scribe named William Farringdon; and a young Oxford bookseller, Nicholas Elyot.

The story takes place in the spring of 1353 in Oxford, a city of churches, colleges and intersecting rivers. The peak of the Black Death has just passed, leaving Elyot a widower with two young children.

Returning from a trip to a farm to collect goose feathers for quills, Elyot chances on Farringdon’s body, floating in the Cherwell River. When he wades in and pulls the body to shore, he realizes that Farringdon didn’t drown. He was knifed in the back.
Elyot and his good friend Jordain, the warden of the house where Farringdon lodged, set out to learn how he was killed — and why. In the process, they discover that Farringdon was copying the Book of Psalms, which now is nowhere to be found. The book was supposed to be locked up in the library of Merton College. Elyot strongly suspects the book isn’t there, given how the Merton librarian responds when he asks to see it.
One of the fascinations of historical mysteries is that an investigator such as Elyot must use reasoning, observation and community knowledge to solve the crime. There’s no fingerprinting, DNA or even photography to help. There are hardly professional investigators or policemen, much less crime scene science or pathology.
Elyot’s search for information takes him — and readers — through the crowded busy streets of Oxford to parchment makers’ and bookbinders’ shops and out into the countryside where prosperous convents and priories stand alongside empty houses with smokeless chimneys left ownerless by the recent plague. It’s an absorbing, fascinating world.
The Bookseller’s Tale is the first in Swinfen’s Oxford Medieval Mysteries, and is followed by:
  • The Novice’s Tale
  • The Huntsman’s Tale
  • The Merchant’s Tale
  • The Troubadour’s Tale, and
  • The Stonemason’s Tale

If this book interests you, you might want to check out Plague Land.

The Author: Ann Swinfen, Ph.D. (1937 – 2018)

Born in Ohio, Ann Swinfen lived in the eastern United States until her parents divorced.  She and her mother moved to England.
She read classics and mathematics at Somerville College, Oxford.  She met and married her husband historian David Swinfen, who was a fellow undergraduate. She studied for a postgraduate master of science degree in mathematics and bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in English literature while raising five children.
Before writing full-time, she held a variety of jobs including being a university lecturer, a translator, a freelance journalist and a software designer. For nine years, she served on the governing council of the Open University and for five years worked as a manager and editor in the technical author division of an international computer company.
In addition to her Oxford Medieval Mysteries series, Swifen wrote two others: The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez and the Fenland series. The Christoval Alvarez series features a young Marrano physician recruited as a code-breaker and spy in Walsingham’s secret service. The Fenland series takes place in East Anglia during the 17th century.


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