Sharon Kay Penman enjoys a solid fan base, thanks to the superior quality of her Medieval English historical novels. Penman has few peers in this genre, with her comprehensive research of this fascinating period, infusing her characters with believable personalities both noble and Draconian. It is not surprising, then, that the author mines this familiar era for her recent series of mysteries. Dragon's Lair, set in 1193, is the most accomplished to date, as Penman masters the art of mystery writing.
The Queen's man, Justin de Quincy, returns in a tale set in England and Wales. Eleanor of Aquitaine's oldest son, Richard Lionheart, traveling home from Crusade, is captured and imprisoned in Austria by the Holy Roman Emperor. An enormous ransom is demanded for Richard's release and Eleanor is determined to meet the outrageous demand. Meanwhile, Richard's youngest brother, John, secretly plots to keep his older brother incarcerated, acting in collusion with King Philippe of France.
A valuable shipment of wool, meant for the ransom coffers, is hijacked en route from Wales. Desperate to recover the stolen goods, Eleanor appoints Justin de Quincy as her personal emissary, charging him with retrieving the ransom. Justin's first visit is to the scene of the crime in Wales, where he is offered the questionable hospitality of Rhuddlan Castle as the guest of Davydd ab Owain and his wife, Emma of Anjou. Political machinations are afoot, as Davydd pointedly directs the blame toward his rival, Llewelyn ob Iowerth, the charismatic Welsh prince so prominent in Penman's novel Here Be Dragons.
Given Davydd's suspect motives, Justin ignores the obvious solution, instead trusting his own intuition. Traveling between Wales and England, Justin follows clues that suggest a much more sinister plot behind the theft. Secretly, and with the aid of the infamous Llewelyn, Justin visits various locales in Northern Wales, where he stumbles across a truly Machiavellian plot. In the port city of Chester, England, Justin uncovers even more valuable information while visiting the murky dockside alehouses.
Penman's description of life in 1190's England and Wales is picturesque, filled with ribald characters, nefarious criminals and eccentric individuals. Her historical perspective firmly entrenched, the author draws on considerable expertise when crafting Dragon's Lair. The trustworthy young Justin de Quincy has many years of adventure ahead, either as the Queen's man or a trusted friend of Llewelyn, now fulfilling his own destiny as a prince of Wales. Such chivalrous men stand tall in the annuls of history, at a time when boys were raised on dreams that, someday, they too may slay dragons.