The Killing Way

The Killing Way

It is the time of Arthur, but this is not his storied epic. Arthur is a young and powerful warrior who some would say stands on the brink of legend. Britain’s leaders have come to elect a new supreme king, and Arthur is favored. But when a young woman is brutally murdered and the blame is placed at Merlin’s feet, Arthur’s reputation is at stake and his enemies are poised to strike. Arthur turns to Malgwyn ap Cuneglas, a man whose knowledge of battle and keen insight into how the human mind works have helped Arthur to the brink of kingship. Malgwyn is also the man who hates Arthur most in the world. After the death of Malgwyn’s wife at Saxon hands, he became Mad Malgwyn, killer of Saxons and right-hand lieutenant to the warrior Arthur. Right hand, that is, until a Saxon cut his sword arm off and left him to die on the battlefield. Arthur rescued him. Now a one-armed scribe and a heavy drinker, Malgwyn rejects the half-life that his liege gave him. But loyalty is sometimes stronger than loathing…and Malgwyn is pulled toward a puzzle that he can’t ignore.

Reading as many books as I do each month one of the fundamental requests I have from an author is that the work of fiction is entertaining, flows well and has a story that is strong enough to hold my imagination and concentration until the very end. For the most part The Killing Way by Anthony Hays succeeded in keeping me glued to the book, reading it over two very busy days, and once I’d made my way through the initial pages – struggling to come to terms with numerous characters and language – I settled into a rhythm and found myself warming to the narrator and protagonist Mad Malgwyn.

I know very little about the Arthurian legend, save for what I’ve seen in the films but then they were never made to be anything other than entertaining! One thing I was surprised with was the portrayal of Merlin – a mad old man – and first appearances weren’t positive for me at least. Although a close friend to Lord Arthur he didn’t strike me as the wizard I’ve come to know and love. However, and this is where the author does well with his storytelling, my perceptions of Merlin changed as the story progressed. He wasn’t as central a character as I expected when I began reading the book but this may come in further adventures for I certainly see mileage in Malgwyn’s detection skills.

Characterisation is interesting, Hays rightly concentrating on his protagonist Malgwyn who in turn introduces the reader to a variety of characters including Lord’s, servants, slaves, bandits and of course a King. Everything is presented through the eyes of Malgwyn, an ageing drunk and alcoholic, who has certainly seen better days. A rotund and out of shape individual who is still recovering from the loss of his wife. However, Lord Arthur has remained a loyal friend and advocate of his abilities to see things in a way no other man or woman can and pulls him in to investigate the murder of a young girl.

The metallic smell of blood hung in the air, like that of a freshly dressed kill in the field. I pushed past the young toughs and through the circle of guards. Eleanor’s face was turned away from me, and I was glad for that. Her tender neck looked like Gwyneth’s, though, and the sight stole my breath from me. From behind I heard a sudden silence and the rustling of bodies as the crowd parted for Arthur.

One thing I would have liked to have seen, if I’m being hyper critical, is a little more depth to his or Arthur’s enemies. I never felt – apart from one or two – I discovered much about them and because of it I never felt any emotive reactions to their part in the storyline. There were a couple of endearing scenes, both involving children, that gave the book depth and an insight in to future development especially between Malgwyn and his daughter Mariam who appeared incredibly astute for someone of her age!

I also enjoyed the investigation side of the tale. Malgwyn has trouble getting away from his reputation as a drunk and chaser of wenches but through quick-witted dialogue and a confident manner he attempts to turn his life around for he quickly discovers his past habits catching up with him. With two murders to solve and a deathly time limit imposed by the King, Malgwyn walks the muddy streets searching for clues without the aid of modern technology. It’s quite a simplistic form of investigation but it does work well.

A very enjoyable and fluid read with an atmospheric prose I was thoroughly entertained and look forward to the next adventure.

Published by Corvus The Killing Way is available in Hardback.

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