A new series of medieval murder mystery novels will feature Shaftesbury, Enmore Green and Motcombe.
Rosie Lear has released her first novel, ‘Missal For Murder’. Many locals will know the Motcombe-based author as Rosie King. Rosie is a member of Shaftesbury Arts Centre’s drama group and she directed this year’s ‘Treasure Island’ production. But instead of bringing other writers’ characters to life, Rosie has now created her own hero – Matthias Barton.
“He’s a young man who has lost both his parents and his sisters from ‘sweating sickness’,” Rosie explained. “He went abroad to try and forget but he’s now come back to Milborne Port. Mathias will progress through the books. He’ll gradually cast off the sadness that he has over the death of his parents and hopefully people will like to follow him,” she explained.
The trilogy begins in 1436. It’s an era that fascinates Rosie. “I’m very fond of the mediaeval period,” Rosie said. “I taught English literature for years. I like Chaucer very much. I thoroughly enjoyed the mediaeval research that I did. We went to Bruges nineteen years ago and I found the most wonderful, mediaeval murals around a gothic hall. They stayed in my mind all of that time.”
In the first book, Matthias turns detective after strange deaths occur in Sherborne. It was a festive trip over to that town’s abbey that inspired Rosie’s writing. “Just after we moved to Dorset we went to a carol concert in Sherborne Abbey. As we sat there I thought it would be a wonderful place for a murder.” It was an unusual thought to have. “I was with my husband at the time,” Rosie laughed.
Rosie’s research quickly uncovered a strong storyline. “I discovered that in 1436 the abbey had another church joined onto it called All Hallows. This church was for the common townspeople. The abbey was for the monks. The abbot narrowed the door, which enraged the townspeople and they retaliated by building their own font in All Hallows. The abbot reported that to the Bishop of Salisbury. He said that the townspeople should remove the font and the abbot should widen the doorway. Neither side agreed,” said Rosie.
Rosie learned that a fire followed this stand off. “You can still see the shape of the door where All Hallows was. If you look by the choir stalls you can see the rose colour where the stones touched the flames. It’s just a feast for the imagination,” she said.
Rosie set about researching medieval murder methods. “It was just daggers, swords, a bit of poison or chucking them into a bog. I used stiletto knives, which cut throats very neatly,” she said.
Rosie says that she has gone to great lengths to ensure that her details are accurate and authentic. “I’ve had to do a lot of research on the history of the day – what people ate, where they went, which streets merged into which,” Rosie said. “ I know it is so easy for people to read it and be critical.”
Rosie gave an example of her fact checking. She had written that the coroner was sitting underneath a horse chestnut tree. “Then I happened to read, by chance, that horse chestnut trees came to England much later so it would have been a sweet chestnut tree.” Rosie corrected her text before the book went to the printer.
Rosie is pleased with how the novel has been selling in local outlets. This has been spurred on with the publishing of her following stories. “There’s a second one already written. Hopefully this will be a series using the same characters and the same setting,” she said. “One of them will hopefully come out before Christmas, because it is ready. The third book is a project for me in the winter months,” Rosie laughed.
Shaftesbury, Enmore Green and Motcombe will feature prominently in Rosie’s third release. She’s discovered the ruins of an old chapel, monastery or friary in the north end of Motcombe village. “It might have been connected to the hunting lodge of King John, possibly. Nobody knows,” she said. “That’s open to the imagination and one of the characters in my book is the coroner of North Dorset, so he would be more than capable of riding over to Motcombe to investigate a bit,” Rosie added.
Rosie wrote ‘Missal for Murder’ back in 2001, then filed the manuscript away and forgot about it until recently. “I wrote it about seventeen years ago when we first moved from Cornwall to Dorset. It took me a year and a half to write and research. My brother had it typed up and bound and I put it away in a drawer. Years later, my husband became quite ill and just after he died I thought it was time to get the book out again.” she said.
“I changed one or two things that suddenly seemed quite unrealistic. I couldn’t change the ending but I could change how it got there,” she said.
‘Missal for Murder’ is available from Motcombe Shop, Shaftesbury Arts Centre and also on Amazon, where the book has been attracting four and five star reviews. Rosie promised that it is a good holiday read. “I am not Hilary Mantel but I hope that people will just enjoy it and learn something from it.”