Wednesday, September 16, 2009

At Least Once a Knight

Today's guest blogger is my friend Jeri Westerson who writes the Crispin Guest novels. Having recently read Veil of Lies, the first book in this great series, I can attest that your (k)nights will be filled with adventure and intrigue. Veils of Lies was nominated for a Macavity Award for Historical Mystery and the Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

At Least Once a Knight
By Jeri Westerson

I spend a lot of time thinking about medieval knights...and what it means to be one. A strange occupation for a middle-aged woman in the 21st century but what are ya gonna do? Of course, the reason I spend so much time on this particular notion is that the protagonist, dare I say hero, of my medieval mystery series is an ex-knight turned detective named Crispin Guest.

As a knight no more, Crispin is nevertheless compelled by his knightly vows and lives by his chivalric code, even on the mean streets of London. All this angst gets thrown together with a dark mystery which is my own little subgenre I call “medieval noir”. My latest novel in the series is SERPENT IN THE THORNS, to be released on September 29th.

So what is chivalry? “Chivalry” is an eleventh century term, French for horseman. A chevalier is French for knight, a cheval is a horse. The term eventually came to mean more than a collection of horsemen, representing a code of knightly virtues of which one’s personal honor is foremost.

A man with a sword was a powerful entity. He changed the face of Europe and the Middle East. Borders fell and rose by this parade of horsemen. An armored knight--a knight in full harness astride a powerful horse trained for battle--is a breathtaking sight. And it is little wonder that such a symbol became the fantasy ideal, not only back then in songs and poems, but of romance novels today. It is also little wonder a knight came to symbolize the very essence of power and masculinity. If you have never seen a joust, you are the poorer for it.

Incidentally, I have. Seen a joust, that is. Now, let me confess something here. I'm a sucker for a guy in uniform. But I'm even more of a sucker for a guy in armor. It's a sickness, I know. The last joust I saw was at the local rodeo (of all places) here in southern California. There are many re-enactors of medieval battles and jousts around, but these fellows used to be professionals, fighting every weekend at Medieval Times dinner theatre. At this particular event, the lists were set up, the "medieval" flag girls in their metal bras rode out, the Star-Spangled Banner was sung, and then it was "play ball!""knights at the ready!"

These were not Nerf lances. These were real wooden lances and these knights were astride Clydesdales and Belgians--big horses. Riding toward each other. With weapons! This was the Joust a Plaissance, "for the fun of it," but it still means business. The blunted lance aims toward the other knight. The object of the game is to break your lance on the other guy or even unhorse him. A system of points is rewarded for the most broken lances. So you aren’t trying to kill the other fellow. This kind of joust was just good practice for the battlefield and a good way to cool down all that testosterone so skirmishes wouldn’t break out where they weren’t supposed to. Many a knight made a good living doing the joust circuit.

For the Joust a Plaissance, lance tips sport a coronel, a fancy little bit at the front that distributes the shock and prevents sharp points from piercing the armor. I can't imagine what it feels like to receive the shock of a lance on these shields or on your breast plate even with all the padding in the world, but I have fired rifles with a kick and it might be a bit like that, only more so.

Needless to say, it was very exciting. Kids, don't try this at home. I turned rather excitedly to my husband with stars glittering in my eyes. “Would you ever try jousting?”

He just laughed at me. "Even when I was younger and in better shape I wouldn't have done this,” he said. “I'm not crazy."

Well there's one fantasy squashed!

We’ve all come a long way, baby, but it’s fun to peek back over our shoulders at what once was, romanticize it just a tad, and throw in a clever mystery too boot.

Are you man enough to solve a medieval mystery? Crispin is.

You can certainly find out more about Crispin on his blog in his own words. Read it at And you can find out more about SERPENT IN THE THORNS on Jeri’s website


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Welcome, Jeri. I look forward to reading your new book.

Lisa Bork said...

Hi, Jeri. Thanks for coming to visit us. I enjoyed VEIL OF LIES and am looking forward to SERPENT IN THE THORNS. And you're so right about jousting. I witnessed a match at the Renaissance festival. Those knights do not fool around. Best of luck with your upcoming release!

G.M. Malliet said...

One of the finest names, ever, for a detective has to be Crispin Guest. And I love the premise for these books.

Best of luck with this fun and thoughtful series.

Keith Raffel said...

Jeri, hat off t you. The research that's required to make medieval noir believable would daunt a lesser writer. Congrats!

Jeri Westerson said...

Thanks, G.M. I love the name. I work hard on character names, particularly the protagonists because I know I'll have to type it a lot! It has to look good on the page and sound good on the ear.

After I finished my last historical novel before starting to write mysteries some five years ago, I knew that I wanted my next protag to be named Crispin. The last name came harder. I have a quirk that if the first name is one syllable I like the last name to be two and visa versa. I think I was walking by a movie poster that had Christopher Guest on it and I thought, "Oh! Vaguely French. Good sound to it." And ironic, too, because his name is Guest but he's not welcomed anywhere. Later I found out the name/word is really Welsh, but that worked out even better. When I created his "coat of arms", I got to dig into that further with his motto, which translates to "His Own Worst Enemy." And then I found out later that there is a real Crispin Guest. He's a French sculptor, but I have all but obliterated him from the internet. I wonder what he thinks of that!

Jeri Westerson said...

Thanks for your kind words, Keith. I guess I'm just too dumb to know any better. :) But seriously, I knew that to create another medieval mystery, I was going to have to come up with something different, something to stand out. And I really enjoy incorporating the hard-boiled/noir thing into the medieval setting. You'll have to look for the noir-in joke in Serpent. It has to do with a name. That's all I'll say.

Deborah Sharp said...

Ah, poor Crispin Guest, the French sculptor ... supplanted by a fictional character!
Books sound quite original and fascinating. Kudos, and welcome to your little blog!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Hi Jeri! It's great to learn more about you and your new book! Thanks for coming by the Inkspot.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jeri Westerson said...

Yeah, poor French Crispin. I know I get people visiting his blog (yup, Cripin has one. My Crispin, that is at and think, WTF?

Jeri Westerson said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. And a big thank you to Sue Ann for inviting me!