Acting as the “Tracker”, a personal sheriff, Crispin is called to the compound of a successful but reclusive cloth merchant who suspects his wife of infidelity and wants Crispin to look into the matter. In dire need of money, Crispin reluctantly agrees and discovers that the wife is indeed up to something. But when he comes to inform his client, he finds the merchant dead in a sealed room, locked from the inside. Now Crispin has come to the unwanted attention of the Lord Sheriff of London and finds himself in the middle of a complex plot involving dark secrets, international intrigue, and a missing religious relic—one that lies at the very heart of this heinous and impossible crime.
BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE
Cast of Characters
Crispin Guest, the Tracker*
Jack Tucker, his servant*
Gilbert and Eleanor Langton, owners of the Boar’s Tusk tavern*
Simon Wynchecombe, the sheriff
William, his sergeant*
Adam Becton, steward to the Walcote household*
Nicholas Walcote, mercer*
Philippa Walcote, his wife*
John Hoode, Walcote’s servant*
Dickon, the butcher*
Martin and Alice Kemp, the tinker and his wife*
John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster
Costanza of Castille, his wife
Abid Assad Mahmoud, Saracen*
Sclavo & Two-Fingers, henchmen*
Bernarbo Visconti, the duke of Milan
Lionel and Maude Walcote, brother and sister-in-law to Nicholas Walcote*
Clarence Walcote, brother to Lionel and Nicholas Walcote*
Malvyn, the gaoler*
Harry, Clarence’s valet*
Michael, Lionel’s valet*
*denotes fictional people
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. How do you think the London setting informs the story?
2. There were many small clues dotting the plot. When you look back over the story, what were the significant clues that you missed the first time? And what did you think of the twists?
3. Class structure is an important aspect of Crispin’s character. How did it affect his relationships with Phillipa? With Jack? With Eleanor and Gilbert?
4. What would you like to know about Jack Tucker?
5. Is the sheriff’s motivation for violence justified?
6. Did the Mandyllon really have the power that was attributed to it?
7. Upon Crispin’s refusal, Phillipa quickly accepted Clarence’s offer. Why would she do that?
8. What is underlying Crispin and Lancaster’s strained relationship? What can be done to fix it?
9. Who were the characters that sparked the most interest?
10. Do you see London as a character? The Boar’s Tusk?
11. Were you disappointed that Bernarbo Visconti remained “offstage”?
12. Is the story enhanced or was it a distraction to have the underlying “hard-boiled” aspect to this historical mystery?
QUESTIONS FOR JERI WESTERSON ON VEIL OF LIES
What is VEIL OF LIES about?
VEIL OF LIES is my own little subgenre, what I call a “medieval noir,” a darker storyline than you might find in medieval mysteries, with a hard-boiled detective. Crispin is an ex-knight, having lost his wealth, his title, his status—in short, he’s lost himself and now has to redefine his role on the mean streets of 14th century London. He found his niche by becoming the “Tracker,” my take on a 14th century private eye. He’s an interesting man; dark, brooding, a bit intense but very sharp. Likes to quote Aristotle. He’s much smarter than I am!
In this first in the series, Crispin is hired by a rich merchant to spy on his wife to see if she is unfaithful. When Crispin discovers that she is, indeed, up to something, he returns to the merchant to tell him the bad news, but the man is found dead in the proverbial locked room. What follows is a nest of lies and dangerous secrets involving international intrigue, a beautiful femme fatale, and a mysterious religious relic.
What made you decide to write medieval mysteries?
I wanted very much to write historical fiction. I’ve always been a huge fan of historical novels. I grew up with them at home as well as a glut of history books on the Middle Ages. With an Anglophile mother and a father studying to teach medieval history, it wasn’t uncommon to have a discussion at the dinner table about the British monarchy or some other point of English history. So when I decided I was going to try for a career as a novelist it wasn’t a great leap to choose historical fiction. With a heady background in history under my belt, I began to write and spent ten years writing novels and trying to get published. It was a no go. This was a time when historicals were all but dead and they were a tough sell not only to editors but to agents. I did manage to land an agent and she worked hard trying to place my manuscripts. Eventually, she suggested that I try writing medieval mysteries instead as something more marketable. I really had no interest in writing mysteries, mostly because I didn’t think I could! But like anything you try, you merely have to give it a bit of research to understand what needs to be done. In the end, all novels are really mysteries when you get down to it. The reader doesn’t know who is important in the story and they don’t know how it’s going to turn out. So I learned to write a medieval mystery, giving it that added twist of going darker and edgier and coming up with what I call “Medieval Noir.”
What led you to write a medieval noir, creating your own subgenre?
When I sat down to write a medieval mystery, I knew I didn’t want to go the traditional route. I wanted to take the genre a step further, and when the idea came to me to put a hard-boiled detective in a medieval setting, I knew I had something unique, something that I would be eager to write. It’s a good blend of my love of history and my love of the noir detective fiction of the past. The idea of “medieval noir” came to me pretty quickly. When I mentioned it to friends and family they didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic. But I knew it was a winning idea. It took about two years of thinking about it and kicking ideas around before I put finger to keyboard because I knew I had to make this shot count.
What authors have influenced and inspired you?
Quite a few. How much time have we got? My first influence from years ago when I was a teenager and finished my first full-length novel was J.R.R. Tolkein. This was the first instance there was a surge of interest in the Lord of the Rings saga. I never knew such books existed and I was interested in the world-building of the fantasy novel. Later it was the hard-boiled fiction of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Dorothy Hughes inspired the noir strokes in my current fiction.
What were your particular challenges to writing in this time period?
The challenges in the book are the same challenges in any book: how to make the plot believable. Getting into the mindset of the period is the fun part. I don’t really “make up my own rules.” I allow my characters to work within the rules of the society in which they lived. After sunset, a curfew is enforced and so now the only ones out on the streets are usually up to no good. It’s dark inside one’s lodgings except for a small fire in your hearth—your light and heat. You light a candle or oil lamp to chase the dark, but it’s still pretty shadowy. These are things I can use rather than having them be an obstacle in the story.
That being said, it must be explained that there were no private eyes in medieval England. The conceit of the character is in the “what if” factor: What if a man with his intelligence and skills were set adrift from all that he had ever known? What might he do for a living that would satisfy his intense sense of honor and justice? How could he do this and atone for his own sins at the same time? The fact of the matter is, such a person is possible. That’s what makes it interesting and challenging.
Who inspired your creation of Crispin Guest?
Crispin was inspired by a few literary figures. Most definitely Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, with a bit of Errol Flynn thrown in for good measure. But it was also about exploring the male role in the society of yesterday as well as today. What inspires this “band of brothers” camaraderie that is uniquely male? And how would such a solitary man pitted against the odds, against all he had ever known, survive in an essentially alien environment? I wanted to explore the dark paths a man must tread and still keep his tattered honor in tact. Crispin is a man with a chip on his shoulder, but carries with him the deep sense of guilt at what brought him low. But he can’t reconcile where he must live now with all he was born to, even with his penitential vocation of bringing criminals to justice. Writing a tortured, conflicted hero is the best kind of fun!
Before you became a published author, what did you do?
I started out in high school and college wanting to become an actress. But then I experienced real world auditions and that idea died a quick death. But I’ve always been into the arts in some sense, and I turned to my other interest of graphic design, switched majors, and became a successful commercial artist in Los Angeles. In the early ’90s, I retired to have a baby and never got back into it (it’s a pretty manic lifestyle and I wasn’t in that mode anymore). I turned then to my last interest, which was writing. While I struggled to get that publishing contract, I got the urge to be paid a bit for my writing (and also for the validation that I could write) so I became a stringer for some local newspapers as well as writing some quirky articles for specialty magazines (Renaissance Magazine, Brew Your Own, South Coast Wine), and publishing some short fiction. Both careers in art and journalism helped immensely with the career of a novelist. The constant changes that must be done to satisfy a client in the advertising world prepared me for rejections (as much as it could) and for the need to re-edit from the suggestions of critique groups, agents, and editors. And in journalism, you learn to cut to the chase and get the story down in a fixed length. I think it helped get my fiction tighter. And even my theatrical past helped in that I could get into my characters’ heads—literally getting into character—and see the world as they see it. And one reason I like to lock myself in my office to write is that I sometimes have to act out the scenes—especially the action scenes–to see if what I’m writing is physically possible. I would hate to be walked in on when I’m swinging a sword!