Jecks, Michael 1960-
Jecks, Michael 1960-
Born November 11, 1960, in Redhill, Surrey, England; son of R.G. ("Peter") and Beryl Jecks; married Jane Susan Bond, 1993; children: one daughter, one son. Education: Attended Caterham School, Surrey, and City University, London, England. Politics: "A believer in democracy and free speech together with tolerance of all other views." Hobbies and other interests: Pistol and rifle shooting; walking over Dartmoor; skiing, dogs, history; reading, painting and sketching; English folk music.
Home—Dartmoor, England. Agent—c/o Jane Conway-Gordon, 1 Old Compton St., London W1D 5JA, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer and novelist. Has worked as a computer hardware, software, and leasing salesperson for thirteen years.
Medieval Murderers (founding member), Crime Writers' Association (chairman, 2004-05), Society of Authors, Devon and Exeter Institution, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, Centre for South-Western Historican Studies, Dartmoor Society, West Country Writers' Association.
The Last Templar, Headline (London, England), 1995.
The Merchant's Partner, Headline (London, England), 1995.
A Moorland Hanging, Headline (London, England), 1996.
The Crediton Killings, Headline (London, England), 1997.
The Abbot's Gibbet, Headline (London, England), 1998.
The Leper's Return, Headline (London, England), 1998.
Squire Throwleigh's Heir, Headline (London, England), 1999.
Belladonna at Belstone, Headline (London, England), 1999.
The Traitor of St. Giles, Headline (London, England), 2000.
The Boy-Bishop's Glovemaker, Headline (London, England), 2000.
The Tournament of Blood, Headline (London, England), 2001.
The Sticklepath Strangler, Headline (London, England), 2001.
The Devil's Acolyte, Headline (London, England), 2002.
The Mad Monk of Gidleigh, Headline (London, England), 2002.
The Templar's Penance, Headline (London, England), 2003.
The Outlaw of Ennor, Headline (London, England), 2003.
The Tolls of Death, Headline (London, England), 2004.
The Chapel of Bones, Headline (London, England), 2004.
The Butcher of St. Peter's, Headline (London, England), 2005.
A Friar's Bloodfeud, Headline (London, England), 2005.
The Death Ship of Dartmouth, Headline (London, England), 2006.
The Malice of Unnatural Death, Headline (London, England), 2006.
The Dispensation of Death, Headline (London, England), 2007.
The Templar, the Queen and her Lover, Headline (London, England), 2007.
Contributor to anthologies, including The Tainted Relic, Simon & Schuster (London, England), 2005; and The Sword of Shame, Simon & Schuster (London, England), 2006. Other short stories appear in Chronicles of Crime, Headline (London, England), 1999; Murder Most Medieval, Cumberland House (Nashville, TN), 2000; The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, Constable & Robinson (London, England), 2001; Murder Most Catholic, Cumberland House (Nashville TN), 2002; The Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits, Constable & Robinson (London, England), 2003; Green for Danger, Do Not Press (London, England), 2003; The Best British Mysteries 2005, Allison & Busby (London, England) 2005; I.D. Crimes of Identity, Comma Press (Manchester, England), 2006; and The Mammoth Book of Jacobean Whodunnits, Constable & Robinson (London, England), 2006.
Part whodunit and part history lesson, Michael Jecks's medieval murder mysteries relate the adventures of a pair of sleuths representative of the politically tumultuous, sometimes brutal Middle Ages. The first book in the Medieval West Country series, The Last Templar, introduces Sir Baldwin Furnshill and Simon Puttock, friends and comrades in medieval detective work. Sir Baldwin is a former Knight Templar who saw his Holy Order, "and with it his whole way of life, destroyed by a French king determined to pillage its wealth," Jecks wrote in an autobiographical statement posted on the Tangled Web UK Web site. Sir Baldwin's experiences make him "bitter and resentful of any injustice." Simon is the bailiff of Lydford Castle, a constable-like figure charged with keeping the peace among the tin-workers of the Stannaries of Devon and local landowners. "With these two I find that the stories almost write themselves," Jecks said. "Every now and then I have to go to the British Library to confirm points, but so far I have been able to leave all the hard work to Baldwin and Simon."
Set in and around Devon, England, during the early 1300s, the books take place during what Jecks described as "a dreadful time, with the country recovering from two years of appalling famine; Anglo-French relations were at an all-time low with bickering that was shortly to lead to the Hundred Years War; the king was weak and rumored to be a homosexual, not a desirable label in a warrior culture; and there was soon to be a civil war." The destruction of the Order of the Knights Templar sowed doubt and suspicion about the Pope and the members of the clergy. "It was a time of booming trade," Jecks said, "but also of cruelty and abuse of privilege."
In The Leper's Return, Jecks offers a mystery centering around the treatment of lepers in a leper hospital, a topic that was controversial even in the middle ages. Simon and Baldwin investigate the murder of a local goldsmith, but residents of a local leper hospital suffer repeated attacks when rumors emerge that they were responsible for the death. After a devastating fire at the hospital, the murdered man's daughter contributes the funds to repair the damage; in the end, her relationship to one of the lepers holds the solution to the goldsmith's murder. "The story," wrote reviewer Gwendoline Butler in a review for the Crime Time On-Line Web site, "calls up a vivid picture of life in fourteenth century Crediton," providing "an exciting story of the animosities and prejudices that leprosy could summon up." The medieval world "that Jecks writes about with such command" may not be "one in which we would have wanted to live," Butler wrote, but it is "certainly one that we enjoy reading about."
The series is not static; the main characters grow and change as their lives progress. In Squire Throwleigh's Heir, Sir Baldwin is preparing for his wedding to Lady Jeanne when the news reaches him of the tragic death of one of his guests. Roger, Squire of Throwleigh, has died. Roger's five-year-old son, Herbert, becomes the new master of Throwleigh, but Herbert's mother, Katharine, blames him for Roger's death. Herbert also turns up dead, apparently accidentally crushed under a horse and cart. Not satisfied with the explanation of the suspicious death of the heir of a prosperous estate, and despite Katharine's objections, Sir Baldwin and Simon investigate. They discover evidence that Herbert was murdered, then face a list of suspects, including the boy's mother, his tutor, and his uncle, the next Throwleigh heir in line. "Like all Jecks's tales, this one—concerning the suspicious death of the new master of Throwleigh, a five-year-old boy—is nicely detailed and tightly argued, with involving action and memorable characters," wrote Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal. "Jecks does his usual skillful job of building suspense and teasing the reader with first one then another possible murderer until, playing against stereotype and conventional expectations, he reveals the unlikely culprits," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised the book's "inventive plot, remarkable characters," and a "steadily absorbing period background."
Sir Baldwin and Simon's next appearance, in Belladonna at Belstone, brings them to St. Mary's Priory in Belstone, England, to investigate the mysterious death of Moll, a young nun. The two arrive to find Belstone in a state of physical and moral deterioration. In addition, they find a priory full of clerics who appear to not be at all sorry at the death of the pious Moll, who would continually but without malice remind her fellows of their faults and urge them to confess and reform. "Jecks manages to make interesting his oddball throng of characters; a clutch of forbidden alliances; some vigorous plot developments; and the era's background and history," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "A commendable achievement." A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that "if the prose is sometimes choppy and repetitious, perhaps it is due to the proliferation of bells in the story, starting with the title." Still, the same reviewer found the book to be a "wickedly amusing romp" with a "stunning denouement."
Jecks's ninth book in the Medieval West Country series, The Traitor of St. Giles, takes Sir Baldwin and Simon to a celebration of the midsummer feast of St. Giles. An ambassador is murdered while taking a shipment of gold to the king, and the alleged murderer is himself found beheaded. But, as usual, the solution is not as simple as it might seem. "This is a crowded tapestry of a book, people with well-developed villains of every stripe," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Rex Klett, writing in Library Journal, remarked that the book is "not quite as seamless as other tales in the series," but is still "well researched and well presented." To the Publishers Weekly reviewer, "everything, from dress to living accommodations to common speech (especially the curses), rings true."
A Publishers Weekly reviewer also called The Boy-Bishop's Glovemaker "a welcome addition to Jecks's successful medieval mysteries." Sir Baldwin, his wife, Lady Jeanne, and Simon travel to Exeter for the late-December election of the "boy-bishop," a ceremony that empowers an elected chorister with the powers of a bishop while the rest of the clergy enjoys a saturnalian day of festive fun. At the conclusion of the celebration, the chosen boy awards honored citizens with gemstudded gloves. But Ralph Glover, the craftsman charged with creating the luxurious gloves, has been murdered and his apprentice accused of the deed. "Vivid descriptions of the agonizing death by poison and the muck in the streets, combined with the more pleasing majesty of the cathedral and candle-studded hall decorated with holly and ivy, recreate Exeter as it was," wrote the Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Realistic characters from the disfigured beggar to the angst-ridden adolescents only add to this well-conceived, well-written story."
The Sticklepath Strangler is a "richly detailed tale of serial killing in the Middle Ages," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. When the residents of the small village of Sticklepath discover a girl's skeleton six years after the youngster's disappearance, Sir Baldwin and Simon travel there to investigate the unusual find. Strangely, however, their investigation is stymied by almost everyone they meet, and their inquiries turn up very little useful information. Still, they do find that other girls have come up missing over time, and that the residents of Sticklepath once exacted final revenge on a person they thought was a cannibal. These few clues, however, combined with the frustrating and hostile behavior of the residents, fail to offer any useful answers to the medieval sleuthing duo. The colorful local characters remain steeped in ignorance and willfully bound by superstition as Sir Baldwin realizes that the monster on the loose is not some mythical creature or vampire, but a very real threat with more murder on his mind. Rex E. Klett, writing in Library Journal, called the novel a "superb medieval historical." The Publishers Weekly critic concluded: "Jecks's fans will be amply rewarded."
In The Chapel of Bones, the site of a murder forty years earlier is once again the scene of violent death. In the year 1323, Exeter Cathedral Close is still notorious for the death of a controversial religious figure some forty years prior. Now, however, it seems that the deaths have begun again in earnest. A mason is killed by a falling rock while working on an extension of the cathedral, and a well-to-do saddle maker is found dead inside the chapel. Sir Baldwin and Simon are called upon to investigate, and as they tease the answer from the grounds of the deadly cathedral, they uncover a plot involving religious rebellion and misdirected revenge. Mabilla, the saddler's gentle and benign widow, knows something is very wrong, and hopes Sir Baldwin and Simon will help her uncover the reasons behind her husband's senseless death. Meanwhile, schemes and plots about as Sir Baldwin must deal with intense feel- ings of guilt for an unavoidable betrayal against someone he loves deeply. Library Journal reviewer Barbara Hoffert commented favorably on the novel's characterization and conclusion, and stated that this eighteenth Sir Baldwin novel is "a fine read for fans of medieval mystery."
For Jecks, the life of a historical novelist is the most agreeable vocation he can imagine. "From a life of constant pressure and continual meetings," Jecks said, "I have found—at last—a career in which I am paid for sitting at home and daydreaming."
Jecks told CA: "I spent many years thinking about writing, but mainly I was chasing my tail trying to earn a living. Then I found myself unemployed and had to make a new start. I sat down and started writing. With enormous good fortune, I was accepted by a marvelous agent, and then I was still more lucky when Headline took me on. Originally I wanted to write about Dartmoor because readers could travel there and see how the land used to look in medieval times, but also because I wanted to live there. Now, with fourteen books written and three more commissioned, I can live where I want. At last I am actually being paid to day dream all day. When I spoke to a manager from one of my past employers, he said, ‘I always knew you'd be a success as a writer. Your sales forecast every month was a work of pure fiction.’ Perhaps, all I know is, I am happier than I have ever been."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2000, review of Belladonna at Belstone, p. 340; April 15, 2000, review of Squire Throwleigh's Heir, p. 515; July 15, 2002, review of The Devil's Acolyte, p. 996; April 15, 2003, review of The Mad Monk of Gidleigh, p. 575; September 15, 2003, review of The Templar's Penance, p. 1157; October 15, 2005, review of The Tainted Relic, p. 1110; March 1, 2006, review of A Friar's Bloodfeud, p. 211.
Library Journal, May 1, 2000, review of Squire Throwleigh's Heir, p. 158; October 1, 2000, Rex Klett, review of The Traitor of St. Giles, p. 152; March 1, 2002, Rex Klett, review of The Sticklepath Strangler, p. 142; September 1, 2002, Rex Klett, review of The Devil's Acolyte, p. 218; June 1, 2003, Rex Klett, review of The Mad Monk of Gidleigh, p. 172; March 15, 2005, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Chapel of Bones, p. 78.
Publishers Weekly, March 27, 2000, review of Belladonna at Belstone, p. 56; April 3, 2000, review of Belladonna at Belstone, p. 65; April 24, 2000, review of Squire Throwleigh's Heir, p. 65; September 18, 2000, review of The Traitor of St. Giles, p. 91; March 19, 2001, review of The Boy-Bishop's Glovemaker, p. 79; February 4, 2002, review of The Sticklepath Strangler, p. 57; October 1, 2005, review of The Tainted Relic, p. 35.
AllReaders.com,http://www.allreaders.com/ (October 7, 2006), Alan J. Bishop, review of The Outlaws of Ennor, Eric Niemczyk, review of A Moorland Hanging, Alan J. Bishop, review of The Last Templar, and Bill Hobbs, review of Squire Throwleigh's Heir.
Crime Time On-Line,http://www.crimetime.co.uk/ (October 7, 2006), Gwendoline Butler, review of The Leper's Return.
Michael Jecks Home Page,http://www.michaeljecks.co.uk (October 7, 2006).
Review-Books.com,http://www.review-books.com/ (July 26, 2005), Sonali T. Sikchi, review of The Last Templar.
Tangled Web UK, http://www.twbooks.uk (October 7, 2006), autobiographical sketch of Michael Jecks.