Tuesday 2 August 2016

Introducing Peter Abelard, the great medieval detective

Some years ago, I made an unexpected splash in the media by suggesting that there were elements of the economy in the twelfth century which we might learn from, whether it was negative interest money, the just price or the guild system (actually a bit later). 

I was making no great secret of my admiration for the twelfth century and the dawn of gothic when, in England at least, the skeletons are as tall (and therefore as well fed) as they are now – and even taller for women.

This was partly because I had been working on that period, and fostering an admiration for some of it – apart maybe for its dentists – when I was writing Blondel’s Song and after that when I was trying to bring the period alive in a fictional thriller.

I needed a detective, or so I believed, to sort out the knotty question of who or what killed William Rufus, out hunting in the New Forest exactly 916 years ago yesterday. It struck me that – if I had been accused of murder back then, I knew exactly who I would want on my side.

I would track down Peter Abelard, the greatest debater of the age and a good millennium ahead of his time in his existentialist morality. Yes, I would find Abelard and get him to defend me.

So I read widely about Abelard, his life and his very famous tragedy, of course. It was while I was reading a particularly weighty tome nearly a decade ago that I discovered that he had a friend called Hilary the Englishman.

Hilary was a poet, and six of his poems still exist – three love poems to nuns and three to young men. Immediately, a complete picture of Hilary sprung ready-made into my head, his own worst enemy, slightly overweight, a little put-upon. In short, I had found my Dr Watson.

The result is my new book RegicideI won’t bore you with the story of how I came to write the book about Hilary and Abelard (well, maybe another day), but just a mention will be enough of Hilary’s escape from death at the hands of a lynch mob, the King of France’s chancellor and a mysterious Man in Grey, that sends them to medieval Jerusalem (witnessing the foundation of the Templars) before returning to try to unmask the villain.

I have no other motivation now than to suggest gently that, when you are on holiday this month coming, you might do worse than immersing yourself in the world of Peter Abelard and Hilary the Englishman, as they stand up against the forces of medieval chaos with only their wits to protect them.

It is available for Kindle here and is now available as a paperback too.

See my book Cancelled! on the Southern Railways disaster, now on sale for £1.99 (10p goes to Railway Benefit Fund). One of my correspondents suggests that we all buy the paperback version (£4.75) and leave copies on the trains...

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