The Holy Grail. It’s a phrase tossed about with sacrilegious abandon. The White House is the Holy Grail of politics, the Super Bowl the Holy Grail of football.
But the real Holy Grail – the vessel from which Jesus is supposed to have drunk at the Last Supper – is also a staple of fiction, and it’s one that Jeri Westerson puts to fascinating use in “Cup of Blood” (310 pages, Old London Press, $12.99), a prequel to her six previous novels featuring disgraced knight Crispin Guest in medieval England.
Originally written in 2003 but rejected by publishers, “Cup of Blood” now appears – significantly rewritten -- and Westerson’s fans will be enthralled, not only for a superb plot but also for an explanation of how Crispin’s young apprentice, 11-year-old thief Jack Tucker, came into his life.
When a Knight Templar is found fatally poisoned in a London tavern in 1384, Crispin is thrust into a nightmare involving additional Knights Templar, a former love, accomplices of anti-pope Clement VII of Avignon, and assorted evil-doers.
Steeped in vivid historical detail, focused on a heroic protagonist and structured toward a shocking and shattering climax, “Cup of Blood” cements Westerson’s bona fides as a master of medieval murder. And now that the back story has been told, Westerson promises to pick up where she left off in “Shadow of the Alchemist.” It’s a continuation that her fans will await with eagerness and high expectations.
Jay Strafford is a retired writer and editor for The Times-Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com.