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Book review (fiction): Cup of Blood

Book review (fiction): Cup of Blood

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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 jstrafford@timesdispatch.com.

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