Exclusive interview with author Joss Alexander Exclusive and a review of the mystery at Cambridge College *** 3 stars
By Gabrielle Pantera
“I knew very strongly that I needed to write about everyday people of the Tudor period, not the rich and powerful,” says Tainted Innocence author Joss Alexander. “About a girl like Bryony, unable to read or write who knows all too well what it is like to be hungry and cold and afraid.”
Alexander’s descriptions of the tension between those who live in town and those who are part of the college are palpable. The story meanders a bit, and at times you may lose the thread of the mystery. The description of Cambridge and town life under the Tudors is vivid. Henry the VIII was the second king of the House of Tudor, after his father, Henry VII. Cambridge, founded in 1209, is the second oldest university in the English-speaking world, after Oxford.
In 1524 at the fictional College of the Young Princes at Cambridge University, a scholar, Matthew Hobson, is found murdered and wrapped in linen that Bryony, an illiterate laundress who’s new to town, lost. As a stranger in town she’s a suspect in the murder. But, not the only suspect. Luke Hobson, a tradesman who has done much to protect his self-obsessed brother, has a motive for the murder.
University authorities want to solve this crime. Due to this pressure Bryony and Luke to work together to escape the hangman. Can they trust each other enough to save themselves?
“One day when I was walking my dog in the fields on the outskirts of Cambridge, I stumbled upon a tiny decaying orchard and had the strangest feeling that someone, a young girl had lived there, centuries ago, in a tumbledown cottage,” says Alexander. “After that I kept meeting Bryony by the stream or near the willow trees, and she insisted that I tell her story. I met Luke Hobson shortly afterwards, on my way to the Nine Wells where springs still bubble up magically from out of the earth.”
Alexander believes in doing research. “I’d already done a great deal of research on this period when I was writing a guide to one of Cambridge’s landmark chapels, King’s College Chapel,” says Alexander. “However, I still needed to find out all sorts of details about the lives of ordinary people in sixteenth England. There’s masses written about kings and queens, and lords and ladies, but information on laundresses is not so common.”
“The British Library and Cambridge University Library are treasure-troves of ancient manuscripts and I’m fortunate I live near enough to visit both of them,” says Alexander. “It’s amazing to see beautifully written and illustrated documents that are 500 years old and to imagine someone painstakingly creating them all those centuries ago. I’m always awed by that thought.”
An early draft of the synopsis and first three chapters of Tainted Innocence won second prize in the Cambridge Writers’ Novel Competition. Alexander also won the first prize in the Daphne du Maurier International Short Story Competition a few years ago for a story based on the diaries of Samuel Pepys, who lived in London in the Seventeenth Century.
Joss Alexander resides in Cambridge and was born in England.
Tainted Innocence [Kindle Edition] by Joss Alexander Ebook, 256 pages Publisher: Carina Press (September 17, 2012) Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc. $5.99