History and crime rarely come together quite so effectively as in this latest history/crime novel from the talented Manda Scott (who also writes as MC Scott). 

INTO-THE-FIRE-HB3Captain Ines Picaut is struggling to find out what is behind an increasingly dangerous series of fires in the historic town of Orleans. Responsibility has been claimed by a new Islamic group, but Ines has her doubts.

When the latest fire claims a life, she discovers the victim has a link to her own late father, who had some wildly radical views about Joan of Arc’s true identity and whether she really died at the stake.

In a town like Orleans, particularly as local elections come closer, any attempt to undercut the image of Joan, a patron saint of France and a powerful religious and national figure, is dangerous.

Scott cuts Joan’s story through the novel, focusing on the years  1429-1431 during her military campaign against England and her death at the stake, convicted of heresy.

In present-day France, Picaut is caught both in the election campaign, as her powerful soon-to-be-ex husband Luc runs for mayor, and leading the investigating into the increasingly deadly fires. The clash between the two worlds gets even worse when her chief suspects turn out to be a local crime family with Muslim ties and compelling reasons to hate Lucs’s politics and connections.

And at every turn Ines finds Joan, the warrior who became a French icon and whose power hasn’t diminished through the centuries.

Dual time lines usually don’t work very well. One or the other era is weaker, usually just a supplement to the main storyline, something to flip through before you get back to the main story. Happily, that that was not the case with this. Both timelines had a substantial story to tell; each era had strong, engaging characters and a strong sense of place and time.

And perhaps that should be no surprise. Scott’s credentials are excellent in both history and crime writing. She founded the Historical Writers Association and produced a number of acclaimed and popular history novels, and her stand-alone crime novels and series have been widely praised. It was perhaps inevitable that she would bring the two strands of writing so effectively together in this new series.

I look forward to the return of Ines Picaut.

Book published in June, 2015.