Sarah Hawkswood’s second outing for the detecting duo of Bradecote and Catchpoll means a change of publisher, but readers shouldn’t worry about having to read the books in order as this story works just as well as a standalone. The setting is Worcester in 1143 during the anarchy of the reign of King Stephen and features undersheriff Hugh Bradecote and Serjeant Catchpoll investigating a series of fires in the town. While the first fire could have been an accident, the Serjeant’s suspicions are raised when a second fire results in a death. Catchpoll is fearful and enraged that a killer seems to be attacking his neighbours while Bradecote is more pragmatic.
The pairing is an enjoyable one for the reader, as we see the experienced Catchpoll bristle at the restraint of the recently appointed undersheriff, while Bradecote struggles to assert his authority and also deals with a family tragedy. This book also sees the appointment of Walkelin; a bright if at times overly enthusiastic young man, whom Catchpoll raises up as his apprentice. The author’s detailed research is obvious without ever overwhelming the narrative, and the details of everyday life in medieval Worcester provide fascinating background and the hint of many future outings for the duo. Ordeal by Fire is an ideal choice for fans of Ariana Franklin, Peter Tremayne and S.D. Sykes. Reviewed for HNR 78 https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/ordeal-by-fire/