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THE FOOL'S TALE by Nicole Galland

Publisher: Wm Morrow/HarperCollins ISBN  0 06 0721502 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Set in a little-known period of history, the late 12th century, and taking a few liberties with history (such as putting a jester in the Welsh court), this is a good read whether or not you are a subscriber to The History Channel.

Author Galland avoids the pitfalls of many writers of historical fiction, and doesn't try to impress the reader wither with her command of archaic speech patterns or impossible-to-pronounce words.  She could almost have chosen to set this story in the 21st century, with King Maelgwyn playing a Donald Trump-like figure, and his jester Gwirion playing the loyal executive assistant, or perhaps even chief of security.

The basic plot is as old as sin: A powerful man, his loyal friend and servitor, a beautiful woman, and the corruption that inevitably ruins a great man who has unchecked power.  Add to this a background of political turmoil and constant danger and you have the ingredients for a block-buster.  One hopes Martin Scorsese has read this book: he'd be one of the few with the vision and daring to try and bring it to the screen.  (That line was written before reading the end-papers which say that Galland is a screenwriter, which explains a lot).

This isn't a murder-mystery, it might be termed a character mystery.  Why, we wonder, do people stick with Maelgwyn, called "Noble' by his intimates,  when he is capable of so much cruelty and abuse?   How is it that he generates such love and devotion, and what does he give in return?  

Each time the reader thinks, "Yup, that's it, he's just a cruel bastard", a plot twist or character revelation shows that under the apparent cruelty is some necessary political maneuvering; that perhaps Noble hates some of the things he does, but does anyway for the greater good of national survival in a hostile world.

But then some gratuitous violence makes you think again and--you get the picture.  Meanwhile, under the political plots and the violence and cruelty, a love flowers in an unexpected spot in this dark tale.  Does Noble know? And if he does, why does he apparently encourage it? 

A shocking and gory end does not answer all our questions: in fact, it generates a few more.  Don't read this book for relaxation--but do read it.