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A Mortal Bane (Magdalene La Batarde #1)

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  714 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
Roberta Gellis, acclaimed author of The Roselynde Chronicles, brings medieval London to life--and death--with her latest tale of splendor and squalor. Magdalene la Batarde is the madam of the Old Priory Guesthouse in Southwark. She and her women are expected to engage in a number of sinful delights, but bloody murder isn't one of them--until Baldassare, the messenger, dies ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 17th 2001 by Tor Books (first published 1999)
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A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis PetersThe Name of the Rose by Umberto EcoThe Daughter of Time by Josephine TeyMistress of the Art of Death by Ariana FranklinOne Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
Favorite Medieval Mystery Writers
29th out of 80 books — 108 voters
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Women who Solve Crimes
170th out of 507 books — 163 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,644)
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Laura (Kyahgirl)
The only other book I've read by Roberta Gellis is 'Alinor' which I would have given 4.5 stars to if I had bothered to put it in my Goodreads library.
This book wasn't as good. I still liked it but it didn't pull me along with its own momentum. Roberta Gellis is very good at painting a picture of life in the medieval world. Unfortunately, I was not entralled with all the church/political intrigue and had a hard time keeping track of all the bishops, archbishops and other men in positions of powe
Mar 22, 2011 Sally rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobooks
I had very mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I thought it was a marvelous mystery plot, well designed and captivating to the end. The romantic element between Magdalene La Batarde and Sir Bellamy was good, and generally the historical setting in 1139 London with the political intrigues of church and king thrown in seemed fairly believable. On the other hand, I was put off by the central idea that the main character was the madam of a brothel, unrealistically housed in a building liter ...more
Ana T.
May 24, 2010 Ana T. rated it really liked it
As you probably already know I am one of those people who thinks Roberta Gellis cannot write a bad book, some less good yes but never a bad one. I am glad to report then that I really loved reading A Mortal Bane and it definetely joins the group of her good books.

It is a medieval murder mystery set in a whorehouse located in an old priory that the Bishop of London has let to Magdalene La Batarde. Magdalene was once a whore herself but now she just controls the business, checks that everything is
Oct 05, 2012 Spotsalots added it
Shelves: fiction, mystery
This was one of the library's giveaways, so as I tend to enjoy mysteries and medieval history, I gave it a try.

Overall, I found it readable but nothing special. I enjoyed the choice of a high-class brothel as setting, though I was decidedly skeptical of the disabilities (one blind, one mute, one simple whore, plus a deaf maid). The bit of romance between the madam and the bishop's detective-knight was certainly formulaic--mildly cute but not interesting--and I had trouble keeping track of the va
Lexie Conyngham
Dec 16, 2015 Lexie Conyngham rated it liked it
A good three, this, or a 3.5, though for the first few chapters the writer seems to be obsessed with hair. A nice change from the usual mediaeval monks and nuns whodunnits (some of which are splendidly done, but some of which are a little overdone), though not too far from them, either. The concept of a high-class whorehouse with liberated feminine minds in charge is perhaps a little familiar, too, but this is well-handled and enjoyable, and as it’s the first of a series I’d also say it’s promis ...more
As the book started, I was really unsure that I was going to like it. It had a tone that just felt very cliche romance novel-y.

But it got much better quickly, and ended up being very interesting and believable enough (mysteries just have to be believable ENOUGH). The motivations felt right, and I think that's one of the hardest things to do right in fiction. Enjoyed.
Jan 25, 2012 Jami rated it did not like it
If I had any notion that working/being in a whorehouse was romantic or could be, this book might have elicited some positive thoughts on it. Alas, I have never thought this and could not get past how ridiculous the story was. But finished it because I hate to leave it undone.
Jean Doane
Jan 12, 2015 Jean Doane rated it liked it
I enjoy whodunits, especially those with strong female protagonists. However, it seems to me that the "virtuous madam" is a bit of a cliché. Here Magdalene is educated, influential, and compassionate, providing employment for women who would be scorned by others for their disabilities. She plies her trade in the shadow of a monastery with the permission of the prior and the bishop. A bit of a stretch! I was bothered by two things: Magdalene's protector, Sir William is crude and rough with her. I ...more
Justine L
Feb 08, 2016 Justine L rated it really liked it
I was in the mood for a good, realistic medieval novel with a splash of romance, and this totally fit the ticket. The only thing I found a little far fetched was the whole concept of Magdalene's house (how were the ladies not pregnant 10x over? Maybe if there had been more ladies working there or some mention of how they dealt with disease/accidental pregnancies, it would have been more believable) but I enjoyed everything else- strong heroine, well researched historical backdrop, intricate poli ...more
Feb 09, 2010 Ruth rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery, fiction
good. setting:1100's brothel - protagonist: madame
Sep 28, 2015 Athena rated it liked it
Recommends it for: historical fiction readers
Roberta Gellis is one of the few skilled authors of stories set in medieval English who truly understands both the political & social history of that turbulent era and her books are worth reading for that at the least. She writes extremely well, her dialog flows quite naturally & her characters behave for the most part precisely as they ought - there is very little 'modern creep' into those whom she creates and she is rightfully compared to Ellis Peters in that regard. She also mixes rea ...more
Kristy Trauzzi
Feb 05, 2010 Kristy Trauzzi rated it liked it
Does anyone else find it odd that a "whore"leader solved the murder in the end? You have these "detectives" and other random people looking into the murder, and here is this dignified adult pleaser who just knows everything. Maybe she was in on it. lol.

My husband picked this book for me. When we go to the library together, he grabs books at random (that have a church role even though he's atheist - how ironic) - and I have to read them. This one turned out to be not bad.

I found the escorts story
Nov 29, 2014 Laura rated it really liked it
An Extremely Unique Mystery ... This book was not exactly a fun read. But the author did such an amazing job of introducing the reader to a specific place and time that it was fascinating. And she told it not from the perspective of a celebrity of the time - a king, a duchess or a famous knight, but from the perspective of one of the least discussed types of person who existed at that time - a prostitute. It was a time when a prostitute evidently had a more institutional, integral and accepted r ...more
Kalendra Dee
Sep 10, 2013 Kalendra Dee rated it it was amazing
Magdalene la Bâtarde is a whoremistress in London. Although prostitution is not illegal in 12th century England, she and her women have been excommunicated from the Church. Renting the Old Priory Guesthouse from the Church, she has a powerful protector in Sir William of Ypres and the Bishop. That protection, however, can only go so far. When a papal messenger is murdered on the church steps, Magdalene and her women are accused of the murder. If convicted, they will be gutted and hung. Magdalene ...more
Deborah Ideiosepius
Oct 10, 2012 Deborah Ideiosepius rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Readers of Historic fiction
Shelves: historic-fiction
I love almost all of the Roberta Gellis books I have read. In this one she meets my expectations once more by blending interesting characters, a historical setting (1139 England)with just enough historic detail to keep one interested without feeling like one is getting a history lecture and a very enjoyable plot.

The main character is a noble born lady running a select whore house, a murder nearby sends her carefully tended establishment into a spin and she draws upon contacts in the church to he
Sep 14, 2014 Ama-louise rated it really liked it
A charming story, set in the early 12th century.

A body is found on the porch of a church. The body of a papal messenger, who recently left a well kept brothel...

So three intrepid plucky prostitutes set out to clear their names.

It's really sweet and enjoyable.
Especially when you know that Southwark was a place for legal prostitution under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester.
Apr 12, 2014 Letitia rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this book as much for the church and political intrigue as for the characters. I love the way Roberta Gellis right such strong female characters and sets them in a time when women had no rights and respect.
Apr 21, 2015 Kb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So close to the trope-y murder mystery of my heart if ONLY IT WAS MURDER SOLVING NUNS. But other than that, I quite enjoyed it.
Jul 19, 2011 Hugues rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aux aurores de la guerre civile du XIIe siècle, soit à la même époque que le frère Cadfael d'Ellis Peters (c.1140) mais avec davantage de détails, cette série est une heureuse découverte, haute en couleur, qui rejoint les enquêtes de Hugh Corbett (vers 1300) et de frères Athelstan (fin XIVe).

L'héroïne est une tenancière d'une maison close de luxe sur la rive sud de Londres. Dans ce premier opus, Magdalaine doit faire face à un meurtre commis dans le prieuré voisin mais menace l'existence de sa
Jun 10, 2015 Sheila rated it liked it
it is ok, if you like the word
Feb 22, 2016 Marcia rated it it was amazing
Dec 30, 2012 Tressa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, audiobook
I really enjoyed A Mortal Bane. I liked the era it was set in; I don't think I've ever read a book set in the 12th century. I thought the characters and the setting were fascinating. The mystery was interesting, too.

Magdalena and her women were interesting and strong. Looking at these characters from the 21st century, I was impressed with how the female characters worked within the confines and constraints of the 12th century. I look forward to reading the other books in the series.
On audiobook. A really great reader. Set in the Middle Ages! In the easiest-to-download format! But, oh yeah-- I don't really like mysteries. And I don't listen to audiobooks with the same close attention with which I read my "real" books. So when the author started laying down clues, I got bored and a little resentful that I was supposed to be paying attention and trying to figure things out. This might be a terrific mystery-- but it's not for me. I abandoned it about a third of the way in.
Jul 19, 2008 Lindsay rated it it was ok
This series is set in England in the 1100s, and the main character is the madam of a higher-grade brothel. Despite the setting, this book was not sexual in nature at all. Instead, the madam is involved in solving mysteries.

The plotline was interesting, but it was way too much talk and not enough plot movement. Something would happen, and then you read two more scenes of one character telling another a recap of the thing that happened. Redundant. Not bad, but I wouldn't read another one.
Feb 10, 2011 Cheryl rated it liked it
Shelves: audio-book
I enjoyed this and probably for all the wrong reasons since I don't think I was supposed to find what I thought was funny as, well, funny. I just couldn't stop cracking up about hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil (and think no evil) as whores. The characters were a bit too cartoonish for me BUT the mystery itself was very well done, very well done indeed. This was a great light bit of fun for a long commute and gadzooks methinks I may listen to #2!
Elizabeth White
Nov 23, 2014 Elizabeth White rated it really liked it
Liked it a lot.
Kristi Thompson
Mar 13, 2009 Kristi Thompson rated it really liked it
Mystery historical about prostitutes. Not as charming as some of her other books, I think the Rosalynde books and the early Greek fantasy are my favourites. But quite a gritty-feeling depiction of medieval life and religion, for her. I didn't know whores were excommunicate.

Lots of good oldfashioned words for sex. Futtering. I like that. But I didn't quite buy the House of Handicapped Whores. Needs more backstory.
Sep 16, 2014 Maria rated it it was ok
Did not finish as the story did not pull me along. The device of using a blind woman, a mute, and a woman of simple intelligent I found to be an unrealistic "Charlie's Angel " sort of thing. too much repetition and the story did not advance. will not explore her other titles.
Jul 25, 2011 Lorena rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this book. The medieval setting was convincingly portrayed, and the layers of political intrigue were a fascinating backdrop to the story. I also enjoyed the main character, Magdalene...I found her very compelling and interesting, and I thought the author provided a very plausible reason for her to interest herself in the mystery and its solution.
Jul 25, 2010 Rebecca rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. The characters were fully realized, the plot keeps you guessing, the history was as interesting and alive as the author always makes it. My only complaint is that I lost track of several clues, but I only read it late at night when I was half asleep so that might account for it. Can't wait to read the next two!
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Roberta Gellis has been one of the most successful writers of historical fiction of the last few decades, having published about 25 meticulously researched historical novels since 1964. She has been married to her husband Charles for over 50 years and they live together in Lafayette, Indiana with a lively Lakeland terrier called Taffy. She has one child called Mark.

Her page at the Internet Specula
More about Roberta Gellis...

Other Books in the Series

Magdalene La Batarde (4 books)
  • A Personal Devil (Magdalene la Batarde, #2)
  • Bone of Contention (Magdalene La Batarde, #3)
  • Chains of Folly (Magdalene la Batarde, #4)

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