The latest novel in Sarah Hawkswood’s Hugh Bradecote series, Blood Runs Thicker, is a gritty, page-turning medieval whodunnit packed with reach realism and beautifully realised modernity.
Edition published: Allison & Busby, 2021
The historical thriller genre has always been a fan favourite. Thanks to writers like C. J. Samson, Ellis Peters and Ariana Franklin, it has enjoyed years in the sun recently. And Sarah Hawkswood is well in the fray as well, which is where we find her new Bradecote novel Blood Runs Thicker.
Set in Worcestershire in the mid-12th century, the De Lench family is sent spiralling into crisis when Osbern, the lord of the manor, is found dead. Called to try and put the pieces of a murderous, complex puzzle together, Hugh Bradecote, his assistants Serjeant Catchpoll and Walkelin get drawn into a murky world of treachery, layers of intrigue and questionable morality.
With a vast number of suspects, finding out the truth behind Osbern’s death is as brain-bending for them as it is riveting for us.
The ‘Classic Thriller’ and Authenticity
Hawkswood’s novel has several classic elements of whodunnit storytelling. There are multiple motives and murky disingenuous characters. There’s familial disenfranchisement, dark pasts a-plenty and simmering feuds. She even has her own Poirot in the shape of Bradecote, a methodical, moral and timely detective who sees through cracks in society to its often-rotten core.
The intricacies and twists are readable and clever without ever being pretentious or having the visible urge to prove itself so.
But there’s also real authenticity here. The scene setting is often beautifully evocative:
‘The church was silent except for the sound of a lone voice chanting in Latin, which faltered as they opened the door’.
And it’s in those moments that you feel like you’re part of the novel itself, sucked in and second-guessing suspects as much as you’re trying to stay one step ahead.
Adding to that flavour is the exuberant dialogue and the cloying sense of claustrophobia in the setting of rural, feudal Worcestershire. Everything feels closer and more inescapable, and when the accusations fly it can get suitably chaotic.
Despite taking place in 1144, central to Hawkswood’s prose is a deep and refreshingly modern lens. There’s a lot about strength in femininity, toxic masculinity and the destruction it causes, and a flipping of gender roles between men and women.
The female characters are given strident voices whilst also being conduits for ethics, personal strength and integrity. Bradecote’s acknowledgement of the cards life often deals women is established in previous novels, but even though it comes from personal loss, it still feels refreshingly modern. And as such, that modernism is always handled with total care and never feels out of place.
There are also, in the book’s more poignant moments, ruminations on the way very little changes, and in particular the lack of accountability for many men. That this is addressed makes a very welcome change.
A Gritty, Engaging Read
Blood Runs Thicker knows it audience, knows it art form and appeases both magnificently. It’s in the dynamics between characters and Hawkswood’s simple but soul-seeing writing that one becomes attached. And while the left-hooks lead to a direct conclusion, it never loses its grittiness or engagement throughout.
You can purchase Blood Runs Thicker from Allison & Busby now.