Historical Fiction: The Canterbury Papers

by Judith K. Healey

Ways of “knowing”

The Canterbury Papers, contrary to its title, is not a novel of suspense. It is, however, a mystery, one that’s difficult for the reader to solve because we don’t know, nor have many clues to, what the other characters know. This is a fun read, especially because of the (fictionalized) insights into the conflicts among the earliest Plantagenets. The story revolves around a request made by Queen Eleanor of Acquitaine to French Princess Alais Capet, regarding a secret cache of royal papers hidden in Canterbury Cathedral. Little is actually known about the personalities of these powerful and tempestuous families; what is “known” has to be inferred from their recorded behavior. Who can be certain about what they were really thinking? But I enjoyed this book because it brought them to life, and I found the central character, Alais, quite believable. The plot is somewhat thin, but the settings are interesting and help the amateur medieval historian to visualize even the places that are merely ruins now (Old Sarum, for example) as they might have been when full of life. Healey is a decent writer without the annoying mannerisms upon which so many current writers of popular literature rely.

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