The Cunning Man by John Yeoman: Book Review

So Dr. John Yeoman offers some wonderful creative writing tips, courses, classes and bukes via his web presence at the Writers' Village. He allayed my insecurities over a certain story a few years back, and did a pretty powerful edit on it to boot.

He's written a collection featuring the hero of his novel, Hippocrates Yeoman. The character is a witty Elizabethan apothecary, something of a Colombo / Holmes mystery-solving type. The collection is called The Cunning Man. A nice size for a collection, at about ninety pages.

Alongside the text is commentary from the author, where he shows the reader how he writes. He indicates where he has used the "rule of three", for example, or where he echoes a previous piece of text to bring home a point or to mine for humour. The protagonist-narrator is a funny guy, and there are more than a couple of chuckles.

One big criticism is that I wouldn't have opened with the first story, a tale about the theft of a goblet. The second story, featuring a near-destitute milliner is - I feel - a stronger introduction to the hero and his everyday life. We get a feel for him immediately. The first story is itself an interesting piece, but I'd argue it is more complex in its character dynamics. So start with the second one and go back!!!

The third is even better than the second, featuring some pretty inflammatory (inflammable? inflammatory? flammable? flaming?) pubic hair.

Anything anachronistic that I've queried checks out according to the InterWeb. The first appearances of phrases and such, which I would have thought came from after the Bard's time, frequently pre-date it. It's impressive (as is the historical accuracy), from my layman's perspective. And the stories get better and better.

The tales are told in more than one voice, occasionally narrated with more flair by the hero's poet brother than the hero himself, whose less flowery voice also impresses. Stylistically, I felt initially that Hippo's writing was very workmanlike, too minimalist for Tudor Eng-ur-land, but it's certainly in keeping with a sceptical Elizabethan pharmacist. Highly recommended historical mysteries.

Get it at Amazon UK or Amazon US.