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Silken Threads by Patricia Ryan
(Topaz, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-40827-6
*****
You must be sure to read Patricia Ryan's description of where this story came from. To condense her much more interesting version, she was giving a workshop on story development and suggested that one way authors find ideas is to take a well known plot and tweak and twist it. For example, said she, "What about taking Hitchcock's Rear Window and setting it in medieval London?" At that moment, the idea for Silken Threads was born.

The James Stewart character is Graeham Fox, a serjant in the service of the wealthy Norman baron, Gui de Beauvais. He has been sent to London to recover Lord Gui's illegitimate daughter whom he had married to a London silk merchant, Rolf Le Fever. Rolf had believed he was marrying the baron's true daughter. When he discovered that Ada had been born on the wrong side of the blanket, he felt cheated. Nasty fellow that he is, he has been taking his disappointment out on his bride. Graeham has been sent to retrieve Ada and return her to her family.

But as Graeham is attempting to fulfill his mission, he is set upon by three thugs. In the ensuing fight, he is rescued by Hugh of Wexford. But in the scuffle, Graeham breaks his leg, badly. Hugh takes the injured man into the nearby house of his sister, Joanna.

Joanna, although the daughter of a knight, had married beneath her, choosing a handsome, smooth-talking silk merchant instead of the unsatisfactory husband her controlling father had chosen for her. It had been a mistake, but Joanna had made the best of it. But now, she is a widow and her circumstances are dire. The mercer's guild - headed by that self-same Rolf - will not admit her and she can no longer earn her living selling silk. So when Graeham asks her to board him while his leg recovers and offers to pay her handsomely, she accepts.

Graeham wants to stay near the Le Fever house; he is sure that Rolf was behind the attack and wants to uncover the mystery about what is happening to Ada. He also finds himself increasingly attracted to the lovely Joanna. But he has a secret. Lord Gui has promised Graeham both an estate and the hand of Ada's sister in marriage if he completes his mission successfully.

From his bed in Joanna's storeroom, Graeham tries to discover what Rolf Le Fever is up to. He enlists Joanna in his schemes, but does not at first tell her the whole truth about what he suspects. Indeed, neither Graeham nor Joanna are completely honest with each other. And yet they find themselves falling in love.

Neither the hero nor the heroine are the "usual suspects" one finds in medieval romances. Graeham is not a lord or a knight, but rather a man-at-arms of mysterious origins. His internal conflict between love and ambition is completely understandable. And although Joanna was born a lady, she is now a shopkeeper and housewife. She faces a difficult life and both the reader and Graeham come to admire her fortitude and competence.

Ryan also does a masterful job of recreating 12th century London, its customs and its citizens. A particularly poignant character is the leper Thomas, a man whose disease has made him an outcast but who is befriended by the generous Joanna.

This is a rich and rewarding book. The characters are fully realized, the setting is impeccably accurate, and the mystery kept me guessing. I sure am glad that Ryan made that off-hand suggestion at that workshop and then ran with it. She twisted and tweaked the original story and made it her own. Silken Threads is romance at its best. This one goes on my keeper shelf.

--Jean Mason


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