Jeri Westerson Interview
October 5, 2009
the author of Serpent in the Thorns
It was great to have Jeri Westerson visit the blog on October 5, 2009, to cap off the blog tour for her latest Medieval Noir mystery, Serpent in the Thorns.
Serpent in the Thorns gives us a very different perspective on John of Gaunt than Anya Seton's classic Katherine does. Did you learn anything in your research about him that surprised you?
Wow, it's been forever since I read Katherine, way back in the Stone Age! I definitely wanted this view of John of Gaunt from Crispin's perspective, just a bit of hero-worship and denial. I didn't find anything surprising but each thing I uncovered gave more fodder to Crispin's personality and motivation, making for a richer relationship between them.
Crispin drinks a lot. Was this typical for a medieval knight?
I think it's fair to say it was typical of everyone. To a point. Wine and ale were consumed by men, women, children, monks, nuns. Wine was sometimes watered down for easier drinking (and to make it last). But in Crispin's case, he is drinking deliberately to get drunk. This harks back to hardboiled detectives, like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. They drink to forget just as Crispin does. Crispin also drinks wine to remember. Ale was much cheaper but he spends a little more to get wine, a concession to his wealthier past.
Crispin is all too well acquainted with torture, an integral part of the medieval criminal justice system. Do you think it was (or is) an effective way of finding out the truth?
It wasn't necessarily an integral part of medieval justice. I think that is one of those myths perpetuated over the centuries. It was used sparingly or not at all. I think the myth persists because of some more celebrated cases in which torture was used. At least in the time period I am concerned with, the majority of cases were dealt with, well ... judiciously. A criminal was brought before the bench, evidence was produced, and he was found guilty or not. It is interesting to note, that of the 200 cases of homicide brought to the infamous Newgate prison in the period 1281-1290, a verdict of guilty was returned only 21 percent of the time. That certainly wouldn't be the case if they were torturing everyone who passed through.
I think torture is a terrible way to exact truth. What are you going to do when you are threatened with torture? Tell the torturer what he wants to hear, right? It doesn't matter whether it's the truth or not.
Review of Serpent in the Thorns
See listing for Serpent in the Thorns at Powell's Books
See listing for Serpent in the Thorns at Amazon.com
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