Title: The Merchant Murderers
Author: Michael Jecks
Published by: Severn House
Publication date: 4th Oct 2022
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: A Bloody Mary Mystery
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August, 1556. Jack Blackjack is on a simple mission: make it back home to his beloved London. It should be simple, right? Wrong. He’s made it as far as Exeter, but before he can secure a fresh steed in that hellish city, he’s faced with a dead priest, ruthless thieves, and a devious Dean who’s determined to see the back of Jack. That suits Jack just fine – he wants to leave!
So when wealthy merchant Wolfe, offers passage to London via sea, Jack jumps at the chance . . . and unwittingly into further danger! With thieves, pirates and potential murderers at every turn who can Jack trust? Will he uncover the truth behind the dead priest and missing merchant ships? But more importantly, will he ever make it home to London with his purse strings and limbs intact?
I was approved to read an ARC of this book on NetGalley by publisher Severn House. My thanks for the approval and, despite my reservations about the book, I hope that you find my review to your satisfaction.
As a part of full disclosure and honesty, I DNFed this book at the 47% mark.
Jack Blackjack is a man with a mission. That mission was to return to his London home with both his body and his wits intact. After hiding out in the Western Counties, he has made it to the city of Exeter before being caught up in a plot of murder, thieves and goodness knows what else!
The blurb of this book is fantastic, it makes the story within sound like an adventure not to be missed, centring on a character filled with charisma enough to get him out of the most desperate of situations. Initially, I though Jack Blackjack was an interesting sort of fellow, but as the story progressed, I just couldn’t bare to read any more about him. A character so filled with contradictions that made him feel like a jumbled mess, rather than a well-thought out protagonist. An assassin, whose profession was only mentioned twice in the percentage of the book I read, that expressed none of the skills relevant to his profession, ran away from danger – or tried to and failed miserably every time. A London gentleman, that owns property, yet grew up poor and destitute to the point that he treats a starving girl to a big meal because he can somehow relate to her plight; even though he has coin enough to lament that his purse is stolen for the vast riches it contains and calls everyday citizens of Exeter various derogatory terms; despite his own personal origins. Something just didn’t add up with him.
There was a turning point to his character, however that completely appalled me. I understand that this is a historical fiction novel and that the role of women in these sorts of novels are going to be restricted to housewife or whore, but apparently, Jack Blackjack is so charming that he could win the heart of any woman, be them ‘sweet-natured wench or mother of six.’ For, this man is so good looking, that ‘any woman would be his within moments.’ I think this would have been a fine descriptor of the main character, had anything he had done up to this point have served any purpose. As it was, he just passed from pillar to post aimlessly; failing in any of his tasks to accomplish anything.
The central plot to the novel is discovering the truth behind the murder of disgraced priest John Lane; the premise of this is the shifting of religions that unsettled England during the Tudor times. The historical background and knowledge of the book seems to be well researched and I appreciated the insight that was given during this era. John Lane, being Priest of one sect of the Church that has since fallen into disgrace alongside his reluctance to give up his wife and his whoring ways see’s him laying face down in an alleyway in Exeter. Had the focus of the plot been centred on uncovering the truth behind his murder and how they tied in with the Merchants of Exeter who have their own quarrels, I’d have been a happy reader. But, for some reason, Jack Blackjack is more content to telling how he is a rich, snob from London in, what feels like, every other sentence. I can deal with roguish, womanising anti-hero type characters as I count Richard Sharpe amongst my favourites. But, there is nothing endearing to redeem Jack Blackjacks many flaws. In the end, I found I cared so little for him as a central character, that I couldn’t continue reading about his arrogant filled tangents that did nothing to further the plot of the story.
The Merchant Murderers is the 7th book in the series. A fair handful of references are made to previous events in other books – such as why Jack Blackjack is in the western Counties and trying to return to London. I don’t feel like I was missing anything substantial that didn’t make this book able to be read as a standalone. Maybe some fundamental basics of character were glossed over in assumption that I wasn’t going into this particular book blind – like the details of Jack Blackjacks profession.
I’d recommend this book to those that are already invested in the main characters, but as an introduction to a new author, this wasn’t the best match for me personally. However, what I was presented with was well constructed. The writing style seemed enjoyable despite its content and the scenes were well described. I’d be interested to pick up other works by the same author that centred on different characters, to see how they write when not penning a character that I didn’t get along with.
I enjoy tales of mystery, murder, actions and adventure. And this book promised me that in spades. Instead, I was treated to an arrogant, detestable main character that had very little going for him in order to win me over as a reader. He took me on tangents that related to his ‘wondrous exploits’ that turned me off from him even more and the key descriptors of women in the book involved how good looking or not they were. Yuck.