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The Beloved Dead: An Arthurian Mystery    by Tony Hays order for
Beloved Dead
by Tony Hays
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Beloved Dead is the third (following The Killing Way and The Divine Sacrifice) in Tony Hays' appealing Arthurian Mystery series, set in fifth-century Britain. The unusual sleuth is one-armed Malgwyn ap Cuneglas, a relatively lowborn cousin of Arthur's paramour Guinevere.

Malgwyn is an ex-farmer who took up arms when his wife Gwyneth was killed by Saxons. After he lost his sword arm in battle and set out to drink himself into oblivion, he stumbled into a new role as Arthur's counselor, friend and private investigator. In previous episodes, he's saved Merlin from an accusation of murder and foiled a rebellion against the Rigotamos (high king). Now he faces a serial killer of young women.

As The Beloved Dead opens, Malgwyn spends a great deal of time with the new love in his life, his dead brother's Pictish wife Ygerne, who has raised his small daughter Mariam and is a friend to Guinevere. Various lords are putting pressure on Arthur to marry Gwyneira, the lovely young daughter of northern Aircol, king of Dyfed - he cannot marry Guinevere, despite their mutual love, because she is 'a woman cast out of the Christ's community.'

Arthur sends Malgwyn to negotiate with Aircol and escort his new bride back to Castellum Arturius. Before they leave and along the way, they are shocked by brutal murders of young women, who die in agony. Druid Wynn shows up repeatedly, warning that Arthur brings 'the wrath of the gods down about his head and on his people.' There's an attack by the Scotti. And a young seer, Vala, predicts death for one of their party.

They return to find more trouble. Nimue is dead. Guinevere has left and has apparently 'taken up with Melwas at the great tor.' Gwyneira is threatened. Ygerne is furious with Malgwyn and he has no idea why. Then there's another murder, in which both Guinevere and Ygerne are implicated. Will Malgwyn, with the help of young monachus Ider, be able to find out the truth before either is executed?

This series only gets better and The Beloved Dead is a thoroughly engaging historical mystery. Don't miss the Author's Note at the end, commenting on both sources and story. Hays has sown seeds in this episode for plenty more trouble ahead for Malgwyn ap Cuneglas - I look forward to reading about how he comes through it.

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