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Now available from OUP
paperback edition of Mystery Stories - click on the picture.
creepy school computers to bungling bank robbers; from lost villages to
deadly Christmas presents :
The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay
Click on a book to read about it
has it easy - Dennis Hamley
a pity about crime novels set in the present day. All this
DNA, mobile phones, CCTV, laptops,
emails, even fingerprints – it seems criminals nowadays shouldn’t stand
chance. Though of course they do. Crime stories set in the present day
to read and great to write: I’ve done a few myself.
But if you want to write a murder mystery of the old sort, one which is
solved with just your eyes, your ears and your commonsense, you’ve got
to think differently. And that’s where setting crime stories in the
past comes in. You’ve got to work out the solution to the mystery for
yourself because there’s nothing to help you. You don’t know where
people are because there are no phones, not even landlines, you can’t
move faster than walking pace unless you’ve got a horse, a letter will
take months, nobody has thought about fingerprints and DNA wasn’t even
heard of. That’s why I turned to writing crime stories set way back in
the past – and decided to set them in the Middle Ages.
The figure of a seventeen year-old French minstrel lost in England
stole into my mind and the The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay
(originally called The Joslin de Lay Mysteries) was the
result. They were first published by Scholastic and came out
between 1998 and 2002 – six novels set over six hundred years ago in
about 1370, telling the story of Joslin’s quest from France to Wales to
find his mother after his father was murdered. Being a minstrel, Joslin
sings his way through the land because, even though England and France
were at war, he’s welcome everywhere. He can sing in inns and
taverns to ordinary people, he can sing in Oxford colleges, he can sing
in castles to Earls. All of society is open to him.
He has his own big mystery to solve, which finally comes clear in the
last book. But on the way, in every town he comes to – London, Oxford,
Coventry, Hereford - murder stalks him.
Of Dooms and Death,
A Pact with Death,
A Devil’s Judgement,
The False Father.
Six separate mysteries, lots of dead bodies – and Joslin solves them
But it’s not just murder which follows him. A forbidding,
threatening character is hunting him across the land as well - and he
possesses the key to the whole of Joslin’s story.
The Middle Ages really are another world. So much research to get
everything right, all of it fascinating. Here are some ways in which I
tried to make the facts come alive.
• At the time the novels are set, Europe
was just getting over the Black Death. So one of the books concerns the
villain using the bubonic plague for his own ends to kill his
• The Hundred Years War, between England
and France was on. It’s very important to the books. It sets off the
first and is part of the solution of the last.
• The Church believed some things
couldn’t even be thought of because they were so dangerous. That meant
that some books were forbidden: it was mortal sin to read them. One of
Joslin’s mysteries concerns a forbidden book about something the Church
thought was about the most dangerous thing of all. But some people read
it and murder follows.
I loved writing these books. I said I’d do just six, each one
a separate standalone novel but with one larger story overarching
them. My hero wouldn’t die at the end but I’d make sure there
couldn’t be any more books about him.
Although…well, you never know!
When they came to an end and I finally had to say goodbye to Joslin I
felt really quite upset. We’d been through a lot together but I knew he
would be happy and well-provided for and I often think of him still
singing and living with his wife, a girl he meets on the way (whose
name I won’t tell you because he meets quite a few) then loses her but
finds her again at the last.. And now all six books
are back as ebooks on Kindle and I’m so glad. And one day
they’ll reappear as fairly sumptuous printed editions, with their new
covers, as ‘books beautiful’ which should enhance anybody’s bookshelves.
CENTRAL blog, revised for the Indiefest.
and reviews of THE LONG JOURNEY OF JOSLIN DE LAY
A juicily macabre series of page
Some years ago I was asked to review The False Father, the last in Dennis
Hamley’s series of six medieval murder mysteries linked by a quest
can’t now remember much about that story
except that I enjoyed it and wished I’d read the other five first.
Now, I’m glad to say, I shall have the
chance. The books
have been out of
print, but Dennis Hamley is gradually reissuing them as e-books under
The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay. They
arfe Kindle editions -
and the covers,
by Anastasia Sichkarenko, are stunning.
The books are set in the mid-1300s, when
England and France were at war, and concern a 17-year-old French
Joslin de Lay, who escapes to England after the murder of his father. England – an enemy country
– might seem a bad
choice, but Joslin is on a quest to find his lost mother, and his
destination is Wales. However,
is Joslin, as a Frenchman, feared and threatened in England, but he has
followed there by a mysterious stranger.
Joslin’s adventures begin in the East
Anglian village of Stovenham, where two young artists from London are
a Doom (a picture of the descent of dead souls into Hell). He is befriended by the
artists, but the
locals are hostile to him. And
series of gruesome murders occurs, linked to the plague, Joslin is the obvious
These fast-paced stories blend adventure,
mystery, friendship and romance. There
is just enough detail about medieval life and beliefs to bring the
life without overwhelming the narrative.
And, since Joslin is a minstrel, there are
tantalising snatches of the
songs he sings. I
found myself wishing
the series came with a
Ann Turnbull (An Awfully Big Blog Adventure)
Dooms and Death
sooner has he stepped ashore at Ipswich than
Joslin is embroiled in murder.
great Doom painting is taking shape in Stovenham church, but each time
is completed the person whose portrait it is meets a mysterious death.. “The devil walks abroad in
the travelling friar. There
heartache and cruel murder before
finds the truth and can resume his journey.
There was no doubt.
Near where the altar had been there were legs
encased in green hose, a barrel chest in
red doublet and shiny leather jerkin.
Whoever it was looked sound asleep too.
Joslin crept closer. Then
he caught his
knew who lay there. And he
was not asleep.
A fine and unique
take on crime fiction, by "oracle255"
When I first read this book, I was amazed to
it belonged in the child's fiction category. Although the writing style
simple enough for children, some of the nuances of the story may be
them, and it is this that helps older readers enjoy it also. Starting
in a French castle, the story leaps almost
immediately into the plot of this, and the coming series, of books. Our
Joslin de Lay, finds himself on an epic quest, but finds many problems
way, the first of which he encounters after landing himself in the
south east of
The many characters that Joslin meets are some
the books finer points.
Each one, with
their little idiosyncrasies, play an important part in this, and the
books, and even small parts may turn out to be of great
importance. I really enjoyed this
book, especially during
some of the later, heart pounding scenes. If any book can make you
frightened at one time, this is it. Any
crime or horror fiction will love this book, and the following books in
rattling good yarn,
Set in England of the 1300's, if you can
a kind of junior Cadfael - but featuring a minstrel rather than a monk
won't be far wrong. It starts off a little slowly, but hang in there,
Joslin actually sets foot in England the pace picks up nicely and
a good clip. There are a few unexpected plot twists at the end, but I
spoil it for you - read it and discover them for yourself. Be warned
are a few gruesome moments too, although nothing is unduly dwelt on:
the equivalent of a family film - a book which the whole family can
to read and enjoy. I'm now looking forward to reading the next in the
Amazon 5-star review, by Juli Jones
don't suppose I'm the only lover of historical fiction and murder
feel excited when I discover a new series. I loved Cadfael and Dorothy
and CJ Sansom's Tudor mysteries (except when they got too long). The
Lay series may have been written with children in mind but the complex
sense of menace and overarching mystery will work for readers of any
looking forward to all five volumes.
Wiseman (poet, professor
emeritus Calgary University, recipient of Order of Canada for services
poetry and creative writing education)
Joslin de Lay novels by Dennis Hamley are a real treat and I can't get
of them. Set in the 1360s, they invoke a tense, disease-ridden and
society which the author re-creates in loving and glancing detail as
protagonist faces his problems head-on. And Joslin's problems are not
ones. Always moving westward, from France through England, heading for
he must find in Wales, he encounters treachery, murder, ill-spirited
out to stop him finding out the truths and answers he desperately needs
understand his life. But, more than that, Joslin comes face to face
and this novel, like the others in this marvellous series, broadens out
we have both a classic quest tale, with all odds stacked against
success, and a
wide battle, which draws us inexorably into it, between good and evil.
becomes, quietly but persuasively, our everyman, trying to save us from
of the devil himself. This is an astonishing series, worthy of being
with the Cadfael books. The
exciting, provocative, beautifully written and the product of an author
many other books demonstrate a keen intelligence and, above all, a deep
capacity for emotion. Kids will love the cliff-hanging adventure.
respond to the way the protagonist becomes the hope of the world and
who must stand firm in order to protect civilisation from the chaos of
VERY strongly recommended indeed.
Indie E-books Review
by Jan Needle
The way that children’s attitudes to learning
history have changed is a constant delight and amazement to me. I sat
in a pub
in Cumbria a couple of months ago and listened to an eleven-year-old
Henry dispute some World War II ‘facts’ a friend was airing – and then
right. It was an amazing moment. The speaker is a history fanatic, and
often wrong. But Henry – politely and calmly – suggested he might have
misremembered or (horror of horrors) misinterpreted.
It was a weird moment, made weirder by the fact that
Henry was absolutely correct, which the ‘expert’ munificently conceded
delight, I must add). He wanted to know where Henry got his knowledge
was told ‘the horrible histories’ which he, being childless, had never
of. ‘So do you like history?’ he asked. ‘Love it,’ Henry replied. ‘It’s
more exciting than what goes on round here!’
When I was a boy, I hated history. It was indeed so
boring, and I still can’t see much value in knowing the names of all
and queens who croaked hundreds of years
ago. But Henry knew, in
detail, the ins and out of plots to assassinate Hitler, and why, and
how. And loved it. He loved the nuts and bolts, the feeling that real
were involved. Which leads me on to Dennis Hamley’s Of Dooms and Death,
first part of ‘The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay.’
This book, these books, achieve the knack of
‘getting into’ history, and making you see, and feel, it through the
personalities of the protagonists. Joslin is the Gascon son of a Gascon
troubadour, who has to flee to Britain after his father is mysteriously
targeted by assassins. Dying, he leaves Joslin very little – his harp,
troubadour’s tunic, a locked metal box, and some money. A canny English
relieves him of the cash, but does take him to the east coast – not
where Joslin has been told he has to go to find his mother and the
some knotty mysteries.
It is at a time of great political upheaval – the
peasants are revolting, for want of a better rule of thumb – and it is
after a major outbreak of the Black Death. Joslin,
in fact, spends his first night in England
in the ruins of a church. When he digs into the soft earth to hide his
his tiny residue of coin, he finds a rotting skull. He is in a burial
What’s more he’s being watched, and before very long he realises he is
hunted to the death.
The plot moves like wildfire, and Joslin’s troubles
multiply at breathless speed. He meets a youth called Robin, a lovely
called Alys (Joslin is quite susceptible to lovely girls), and at least
mysterious clergyman. There are lords and their hangers on as well, who
habit of getting themselves serially murdered in the night. Poor
inevitably, is suspect number one. He is French, he is not a
peasant…and he has
absolutely no reason to be where he is. Rhyme, yes – he’s a troubadour.
a reason in the world that the English can accept.
While the language avoids Middle Age mummery like
the plague (forgive me), the whole thing has a wonderful authenticity
Boys and girls get almost equal weight, and some of the dangers they
are honestly exciting. My friend Henry up in Cumbria is going to get a
believe me. I’d be astonished if he didn’t lap it up. It’s history,
pustules and buckets of blood thrown in, and it’s not just the baddies
most horribly hanged. There are five more in the series to come. I want
A Pact With Death
with Alys at the
house of Randolf Waygoode the painter and his apprentices, Joslin finds
in the middle of strange events. First, the body of an unknown man is
the Thames. Second,
one of Randolf’s
apprentices has disappeared and is found murdered.
His throat is slit and he bears the boils of
the Plague. Two
deaths in one. There
is a double-dealer in death somewhere
in London. Terror stalks the streets and
Joslin must beware of it.
Thames will give you cheaper
lodgings then any Fleet Street tavern, I think.
It’s a pity I couldn’t put you further
upstream wheree the tide’s weaker
and you might have rotted unknown.
no matter. I should
have remembered how
stubborn night-watchmen can
be. Still, you’ll
probably drift out to sea now
and that will be an end of you.”
A push, a splash in the black water
and the companion was gone.
enjoyed the first volume of the Joslin de Lay series and this
one even more. It gave me a real sense of the claustrophobic confusion
mediaeval city of London in the years immediately following the Black
Hundreds of years later I think that Dickens would have recognised the
lightermen fishing yet another body from the Thames and checking it for
valuables before deciding how to deal with it with minimal bureaucratic
Likewise the various officials - the casual, the prejudiced, the
and the decent - were authentically portrayed and nicely differentiated
one another. What really made the story grip was the genuine bafflement
plot, the macabre details and the unremitting pace.
Highly recommended - especially for lovers of
the Cadfael mysteries or CJ Sansom's Tudor series.
century London. The
“city” is small and squalid, overcrowded and busy, surrounded by walls
Roman times. Outside are the villages of Hackney and Tottenham. Waste
the streets, murder is commonplace and into this place arrive French
Joslin de Lay and his close friend Alys, both grieving after the death
beloved Robin. Joslin is escorting Alys to the home of her guardian –
painter Randolf Waygoode – before he travels on to Wales. But no sooner
arrive at Randolf’s house, when Joslin is threatened several times.
When one of
Randolf’s apprentices goes missing, somehow it’s Joslin that is under
and he sets out to find out what has happened. His search for the truth
us a glimpse of life in medieval London. From the gravedigger to the
coroner, each has a part to play in the story.
there is another thread in
this tale, one that I suspect weaves through the entire series. Who –
what – is stalking Joslin? There are hints of strange encounters, pacts
with the Devil and promises of immortality. I admit to being concerned
reading book 2 of a 6-book series, without having read the first one.
suspect that reading the books in sequence might make the wider series
the story more understandable, but book 2 is perfectly readable in its
right and I didn’t feel disadvantaged by not knowing what had gone
There’s enough information fed into this story for it to make sense in
right and be a complete stand-alone tale.
I loved about this book was
the richness of detail. The names of the streets, the journeys within
and outside of it, the descriptions of the river and the depth of the
London’s inhabitants. The research is meticulous and brings the story
felt like I was there in the city, with the sights, sounds and smells
fourteenth century London, still in the grip of the plague. But this
story about the disease that wiped out so many people in medieval
the plague is simply a part of everyday life.
is a historical mystery for
children/young adults. But the history is subtle, woven in so deep it’s
history at all – just reality. There’s a fantasy element for those who
that kind of thing, but not enough to spoil the story for those who
of action and adventure story. A great read for children or
Debbie Bennett (Indie
scholar is murdered in the library of Doncaster College, Oxford just as
about to unearth a great secret. Joslin
arrives in Oxford and finds himself
in a mystery with
sinister, horrifying implications and its roots deep in the past. Two people are
and revenge, while forbidden and
terrible knowledge is abroad in the college.
Joslin is led to a confrontation which could
literally tear the heart
out of him.
was like no
plant Joslin – or even Gilbert, with so many years behind him
had ever seen. They
stood in the pouring
rain looking down but fearing to touch.
from the earth was no plant. Gilbert
turned away. They
saw a human hand, part
body which must have been there
for weeks, buried next to the cursed mandrake.
one of the best books yet by A
is the third in the series and probably the best one yet. Joslin has
Oxford and has to sing at the college.
Here he learns secrets he should not know. Along the way he meets new
people and makes
friends and enemies. The
book contains a
few surprising twists and you will not be able to put it down, I
Amazon 5-star review
time the hapless
Joslin is in Oxford. Still being stalked. Still attracting the ladies,
unwelcome attentions of a murderous cast of characters while making his
music. The whole novel is filled with darkly clad strangers and the
still breakneck. The descriptions of 14th Century
Oxford are amusing and thought
provoking but somehow one never feels them as less than accurate. The
is modern and the fine balancing of history and a modern feel is
me was how the Fellows (who should be striving for knowledge and truth)
intent on hiding unpalatable realities (usually murder) or inconvenient
(anatomy) which calls their very purpose into question. How
changes? That’s one thing I really enjoyed, making the leap
of faith from
present reality to fictional history, and seeing how closely the two
melded. I laughed as I read ‘I should
never have credited Fellows of Oxford Colleges with open
there was many another chuckle in the course of my
is an expert at
giving us observations on so many things that today we find ordinary
(transplants for example) and yet keeping the modernity of his
their fictional world to the fore. We do not see them as benighted
further down the scale of progressive history, but flawed people, just
those we might find today. Despite his comments at the end that most of
Oxford he described is no longer as it was, I felt I knew each street
district of Joslin’s Oxford as well as I know the present day town.
Joslin didn’t have the benefit of Blackwell’s to rest in which I do
when I go
there. But then I’m not usually careless enough to have my horse stolen
read a lot of
this sort of fiction and dare I say it, the concept of ‘Horrible
quite appals me (not that I’ve read any) and I admit to being
flummoxed by the twists and turns of the complex plot, battered this
that and continually wondering just ‘who dunnit?’ But I was
overwhelmed. Just led by the nose through a range of possibilities and
course the perpetrator was the last person I expected. It’ll give any
old) person with an interest in this kind of thing a run for their
certainly go back (and forward) to experience the rest of the
Phillips (Indie E-books Review)
A Devil’s Judgement
is the next place on Joslin’s
meets Crispin, another
minstrel, and Miles’s band of travelling actors on their way to the
Christi Miracle Plays. But
has disappeared, Miles and his band do not seem welcome in Coventry and
performances of the plays are surrounded by danger, murder and mystery.
stood up. Here was
someone newly dead and
left for others to find or be buried in
leaves, eaten by animals and never known at all.
The open eyes glittered upwards. Greasy, black
hair, pointed, even rat-like
nose and chin. The
was a minstrel’s tunic. Lambert
Shoreditch had come all the way from London to
meet his end in the Forest of Arden.
A Lot of Fun, by "A
books are really enjoyable, they take you
back to medieval England and throw in a mystery to boot. I can't wait
how the series finishes.
Amazon 5-star review
Hamley’s impressive new
is coming home to Hereford to claim his
inheritance and Joslin goes with him.
But a body is found at the foot of the tower of St Ethelbert’s Cathedral
and when Crispin
finds out who it is he realises that there are people who don’t want
and are set on his on death. He
Joslin together come to a terrible climax in which they face a truly
murderer watched the body’s almost graceful progress until it reached
of the nave. There,
it teetered on the
edge, nearly lodged in the guttering, then fell further like a
shot with an arrow. It
hit the ground
below and spread out, still, sprawling as if its arms and legs were
placed in some strange display in the grey moonlight; its robe showed
against the stony ground, almost like the wings of an angel of death.
useless now,” the murderer said, then stepped back into the tower and
careful way down to the foot of the ladder.
The False Father
last Joslin meets
the mysterious figure who has secretly followed him across England into
when this man tells him who
he is, Joslin’s
world collapses round
having solved other
people’s mysteries, now he is on the brink of solving his own. The journey is long and
hard, the clues he
has followed all the way from France are riddling and not to be
are men and women dead on the way and the secret buried in the past is
was as if a dark angel or the devil himself, or the huge black spider
Joslin’s dreams, descended on them with dreadful suddenness and then
vanished. But in
that instant, one
sinuous arm hooked round Edmund’s throat and the other plunged a knife
his back. The body
pitched forward with
a gurgling cry and the death-dealer was gone, before anyone could draw
breath. After the
first moment’s shock,
Joslin knew he had just seen how, with strong arm and smooth stab, his
and Rhys had died. At
lost he knew he
had been right all along about who killed Guillaume.
gripping end to a gripping series,
final book of the Joslin de Lay mystery series, we discover the real
behind Joslin's history, his father's secret locket, and that odd man
sallow, pock marked face who has been following our crime-solving
in places the story may be a little slower and less heart racing than
books, the plot contains many interesting twists, including the
one of Joslin's old flames! But
reason why you would want to buy this book is to find the answers to
questions that we've thought up since reading the first book.
Hamley's writing appeals to all ages, and this book is a fitting end to
impressive series of crime thrillers. Plus we finally get to see Joslin
on the book's
cover. (Sorry Oracle. You won’t see him on the Kindle
cover. It doesn’t
matter: Anastasia’s cover is much,
much better than the old one so Joslin must live in your imagination
This is the
last in a series of six medieval murder
is a young French
minstrel on a quest to find his true parents – a journey which takes
France, across England, and ultimately to Anglesey.
The first section of the book tells the story
of Joslin’s father Guillaume, but leaves it incomplete.
This enables the reader to understand the
quest even if they have not read the other books (as was the case with
me). When we
eventually meet Joslin, he
is in the Black Mountains of Wales, being pursued by the man with the
sallow face – who
is believed to be a
spy for the exiled Welsh prince Owain Lawgoch.
Joslin meets up with his lost love from an
earlier book, and eventually,
after many twists and turns and several murders, finds out the truth
The story is
gripping from the first page, and moves
at an incredible pace, covering great swathes of the Welsh countryside
whole range of human emotions. The
characters are simply drawn but in keeping with the style of the book.
A great deal of
historical research lies behind this
series, and the author’s account of how he researched it is a story in
and shows how much work is involved in what might seem a lightweight
skilful plotting, fast pace and just the
right amount of historical detail, this story should spark an interest
history as well as
Turnbull ( Historical
Yule Logs now out !
Click on the cover to order from Amazon UK
Christmas has always been and always will be a
special time of year, a time either of great happiness or great sadness
and sometimes both. Here are eight stories of different
Christmases, all of which are memorable in their different ways.
The stories are arranged in order of age: the
first for young children, the last for adults.
There are two World War 2 stories, one which
refers to it and one which refers to another war. There’s a
football story, a ghost story and two stories with carols in
them - and a lot more besides. There’s a story
about a really weird Christmas guest and another about a tumultuous
family row. All ordinary Christmases to start with,
but which turn into being anything but ordinary.
Each story has a postscript telling what real
memory lies behind it and how it came to be written.
Many of my earlier books are back in print via the
imprint of the Solidus
Press. I have chosen some of my favourites to be rereleased
by this new publisher. Here are some that you can read now :
The Great Football Treble
All three books are now
available. You can buy them by clicking on
the titles :
Two chilling ghost stories
You can buy them by clicking on the
Ghosts Who Waited