Saturday, November 20, 2010

"The Demon's Parchment"

Jeri Westerson is a journalist, author of Veil of Lies and Serpent in the Thorns, and noted blogger on things mysterious and medieval.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Demon's Parchment, her third medieval mystery featuring Crispin Guest, and reported the following:
From Page 69 of The Demon's Parchment:
“Who but a monster would commit these horrible crimes?”

Who indeed? “What are you implying? That this...this Golem...has murdered these children?”

“I saw what was done to those boys.”

“How did you know that I am investigating?”

“One hears things. But that was after I had decided to seek you out.”

Crispin narrowed his eyes and looked across the room, peering into the shadows of the alcoves, trying to discern the strange beakers and jars from the shapes of alchemic apparatuses. “What is a...Golem?”

Jacob rose and returned to his table, unrolling a scroll with shaking hands. “This, Maître Guest, is the Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation.”

Curious, Crispin strode across the room and looked over the man’s shoulders. He gritted his teeth when he beheld the page of strange symbols interspersed with Stars of David. “These seguloth,” said Jacob, pointing to the symbols, “explain the book. Our Father Abraham was given the divine revelation of these pages by the Lord—blessed be His name—and the rabbis of old have discussed it and analyzed it for centuries. This,” he said, spreading his fingers over the tan parchment, “is the understanding of Creation itself. How the universe was created through the Sefirot, the Ten Sacred Numbers—”

“Enough!” The room felt close suddenly. This talk of Jewish magic made Crispin’s skin crawl. “This monster. This Golem. What is it? Did you make it?”

“Me? Oh no! Never! Only in extreme circumstances and only with the counsel of many wise rabbis would I attempt it. You see, Maître, the word ‘Golem’ means a ‘shapeless mass.’ It is made from mud or clay. The Golem is created to protect the Jewish people from harm.”
In this exchange, Crispin is talking to Jacob of Provencal, a Jewish physician called to the court of Richard II to minister to the Queen to discover why she had not yet conceived an heir. Jacob has hired Crispin to find parchments stolen from him that he believes are responsible for unleashing a demon, a Golem, on London, and who has been murdering young boys.

The relic aspect is so important to the Crispin Guest series because it adds dimension to Crispin's finding something lost or discovering a murderer. It’s the Maltese Falcon, the McGuffin, that propels the plot forward. And relics there were aplenty in the Middle Ages. But in this novel, I wanted to touch on the lives and plight of medieval Jews. Yet in England, they had all been exiled since 1290, almost one hundred years before the action of the novel takes place. How to bring them into the story and with a relic too boot? Enter a Jewish physician from France looking for the lost pages of the Kabbalah.
Read an excerpt from The Demon's Parchment, and learn more about the book and author at Jeri Westerson's website, her "Getting Medieval" blog, and the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir blog.

Westerson wrote about Crispin Guest's place among fictional detectives for The Rap Sheet.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue