DARK DECEIT by Cathie Dunn (Review)

(England and Normandy, AD 1114)

Alleyne took a deep breath and pushed her shoulders back, her heart racing. Something had happened to Father.

‘Who are you, my lord?’ she called out, trying to keep her voice steady. ‘And why have you my father’s stallion in your possession?’

The knight ruffled his thick black hair. She sensed his unease. He approached in tentative steps, as if preparing the right words to say. She took in the narrow, aquiline nose and thin, wide mouth. Light blue eyes met hers with a touch of arrogance. She stared back, not giving in to the sudden urge to lower her gaze. Blood pounded in her ears. Although he stopped at the bottom of the steps, he still towered above her.

‘Geoffrey de Mortagne, under-sheriff of Gloucestershire.’ He briefly inclined his head. ‘I assume you are the lady Alleyne?’

She nodded, unable to speak.

‘I bring sad news, my lady, about your lord father.’ The seriousness of his task showed in his features.

Geoffrey de Mortagne, the second son of a Norman landowner, and currently under-sheriff of Gloucestershire in England (this is soon after the Norman Conquest) is riding back from Lincoln to Gloucestershire when he and his men happen upon what seems at first to be a case of outlaws attacking a lone traveller. They intervene but are unable to save the man when a thrown axe embeds itself in his spine, or to catch the attackers.

They leave the dying man, Lord Raymond of Bellac, with the infirmarer at a nearby Benedictine monastery, after Geoffrey has promised to ride straight to Bellac with the news and sworn to stand by and protect Lord Raymond’s daughter in the dark days ahead.

It is this daughter, Alleyne, who, from this point on, the story revolves around. She is Lord Raymond’s only child, a rich heiress, and as such the natural prey of any knight wishing to acquire her property. In times like these – the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda is raging – there is no protection for those who cannot defend themselves. Any man could abduct her, force her into marriage – which in effect simply meant rape her – and claim her property.

Geoffrey is determined not to let that happen.

Add to this that Alleyne is startlingly beautiful and unbelievably naive, and you will see where the story is going.

I do mean unbelievably. I am not sure of her age, but she seems to be seventeen, eighteen. And yet, after a man tries to force himself on her “She sent a quick prayer of thanks to the Virgin, certain that the Lady had kept her safe. Whatever it was men did when they forced themselves on women, he had not been able to do it.” She didn’t know? A beautiful girl of seventeen, eighteen, living on a country estate in the Middle Ages?

There is also some editing needed, not simply words misspelt but some serious errors like “Will has a large contingency of his men stationed at your manor …” Which should of course be “contingent”.

On the whole, though, it is a good story, well worth the Kindle price. And afterwards, as with all successful historical fiction you feel you know the period and the people, feel at home there.