Tuesday, October 29, 2013

London Treasure Hunt

By Jeri Westerson

I’ve titled this post as I did because my newest medieval mystery, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, is not only a murder mystery involving a venerated object, but in the course of that mystery is a massive treasure hunt all over London.

Readers have been asking for a map of fourteenth century London, and as promised, there is one in this edition. Since all of the action of five of the so-far six books in the series takes place in London, I naturally needed to acquaint myself with its period streets. Unfortunately, the London I would love to see doesn’t exist anymore. A couple of fires took care of that, along with some re-planning and reconstruction throughout the ages and into the present.

Maps serve to give me the claustrophobic feel of constricted alleys and a puzzle of lanes. In fact, one can lay these maps on the Google Earth version of the present day London and match quite a bit of it. Even some of the names remain the same. My fictional detective, Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight turned detective and down on his luck, frequents a tavern to forget his troubles, which is located on Gutter Lane…a street that still exists by that name. I love that symmetry!

But there are still a few locations that can be found in present day London that can renew one’s sense of time and place. One obvious structure is the Tower of London. The outer walls and the White Tower within are relatively the same, sans the murky moat that used to surround it. And walking under the arches and sharp teeth of the portcullises one can get a true sense of its medieval origins, if you can ignore the gift shop signs and colorfully-dressed tourists. It began life as the castle of William the Conqueror and as a residence of each monarch after him until digs in Westminster were built. Only later, well after Crispin’s time, did it become the dreaded place of imprisonment for London’s elite.

I could name so many places that no longer exist or have been changed so radically to its Victorian counterpart that it is almost not worth the mention. London’s city walls, for instance—the square mile that delineated ancient London—have been obliterated by “new” buildings from the Georgian and Victorian periods and our modern time, and it is only with a helpful handheld guide that you can find its remnants. But a walk into a few structures might bring the medieval back to mind. The 12th century Temple Church of the Knights Templar on Fleet Street; the 12th century Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield; the Guildhall, built between 1411 and 1440, which stands off Gresham and Basinghall streets, served as the city hall for hundreds of years.

Then there is the wonderfully intact Westminster Hall, the great hall that was part of the medieval Westminster Palace, whose footprint is now covered by the Parliament buildings. But the hall is as Crispin would have remembered it, even with its current hammerbeam ceiling, that his king, Richard II, put in place to replace the columns that used to support it. It is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe, measuring 68 by 240 feet. It was used for feasts, great occasions, law courts, religious ceremonies, and entertainments.

And, of course, Westminster Abbey itself got a brush up of remodeling in Crispin's day, and looks a bit different than it did. But remember, the Abbey and the Hall are in what was the City of Westminster, not the City of London.


Los Angeles native and award-winning author Jeri Westerson writes the critically acclaimed Crispin Guest Medieval Noir mysteries. Her brooding protagonist is Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight turned detective on the mean streets of fourteenth century London, encountering thieves, kings, poets, and religious relics. Her books have garnered nominations for the Shamus, the Macavity, the Agatha, Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice, and the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Jeri is president of the southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and is vice president of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime. When not writing, Jeri dabbles in gourmet cooking, drinks fine wines, eats cheap chocolate, and swoons over anything British.  www.JeriWesterson.com

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