Tainted Innocence by Joss Alexander – a historical mystery set in Cambridge, England, in 1524.
This debut novel tells the story of Bryony, an illiterate laundress and a stranger to the town, who lives in constant fear that her unusual upbringing and lack of friends will leave her vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft.
When Matthew Hobson, a scholar at the college, is found murdered Bryony becomes a suspect. But she is not the only one. Luke Hobson, a taciturn local tradesman who has sacrificed much for his charismatic but selfish brother, also has a motive for the murder.
With the university authorities eager to solve the crime, outsiders Bryony and Luke are forced into a wary alliance, knowing they have to track down the killer if they are to escape hanging. But can they trust in each other’s innocence in order to uncover the truth?
Published by Carina Press, a division of Harlequin.
An Extract from the Novel
It would not be the first time Bryony had risked the branding iron, but before she’d been sick with hunger. This was different. This wouldn’t be stealing to stop the gnawing in her belly. This would be stealing just because she wanted it.
She caressed the smooth leather binding of the book. It was not so large; it could be concealed in the folds of her shawl, and none would be the wiser. One chilblained finger traced the flowing curves of gold. She knew that first letter—a B—the same as a priest once told her began her own name. Bryony. A pagan name, he had called it, not really a name at all but that of a plant with poisonous berries, and he had urged her to adopt another one, one from the holy saints. Bertha or Barbara.
Reviews for Tainted Innocence
“I was attracted to this book because it is set amidst the ivory towers of my home town, Cambridge. The back story, therefore, is an absolute delight, covering as it does the troubled history of the building of the awe-inspiring chapel of Kings College as well as touching on Hobson – the stable owner responsible for the expression Hobson’s Choice and also the architect of Hobson’s Conduit, the first water supply into the city of Cambridge. This was very much ahead of his/its time and contemporary with London’s very first clean water supply.
As in all good novels, though, the carefully researched back story doesn’t get in the way of a terrific tale of murder, manipulation and prejudice within the stinking medieval lanes of the troubled academic city.
Alexander is a talented author who paints some wonderful pictures of the countryside and sixteenth century East Anglian life. And I also enjoyed the use of some lovely archaic words – manciple, scapegrace, cutpurse, sennight – that were totally new to me.
The current Arctic weather has made me think of Bryony, the laundress heroine of Tainted Innocence; clearly I’d connected with hero. Life was so tough for her and other impoverished townspeople of Tudor England and how cushy we have it in modern Britain. Imagine having to take bedsheets down to the river to wash them, and how cold would you be squatting in your clogs by the icy river pounding sheets clean, especially if you were also too poor or overworked to eat that day.” – Jane W Howarth – Five star Amazon review