The Bone Fire ) is SD Sykes’s latest in her series of characterful crime novels featuring Oswald de Lacy, a 14th-century nobleman. When plague threatens England again, 13 years after the ravages of the Black Death, de Lacy and his family take refuge, with other guests, in a friend’s isolated island castle. For fear of the pestilence, no-one can enter or leave, but the discovery of their host’s bloody body reveals that a murderer is among them. In this enjoyable “locked castle” mystery, more deaths follow as Oswald works to identify the killer and his motives.
After a tense and hugely atmospheric journey across the Kent marshes, the De Lacy family arrive to find a collection of strange people installed at the castle. Among the cast are a useless fool, an irascible clockmaker with a violent nephew and Godfrey’s dissolute, maid-bothering brother. Godfrey is a tempestuous, erratic host. Once the portcullis is lowered against the plague, there is a murder. Sykes uses the situation to set up a classic country house whodunnit. The setting is fantastic and although there are a few rather heavy-handed red herrings, it builds to a satisfyingly twisty climax.