‘Behind the Text 32. ‘The Wanderer’ 2 : ‘Isle of Intrigues’
The second book in ‘The Wanderer’ saga is very different from its predecessor – if only because Ethelwulf the Wanderer and his followers spend most of the time in the background It is really a set of short stories covering murder, theft, intrigue, brutality and an academic debate about fossils! It was one of the last parts of the saga written (actually started on 15 Oct 2001 although much enlarged & revised) – none of the parts were really completed sequentially which made sewing together the tapestry of the Wanderer more difficult. I delayed writing ‘Isle of Intrigues’ because so little is known about 10th century Jersey, the setting of the book in 979-81. Officially it was controlled Richard the Fearless, Marquess of Normandy, and a slowly developing feudal structure was emerging , but the inhabitants were a mixture of natives, Vikings, Normans (the grandsons of Viking raiders) and others. Archaeology has uncovered remains of houses and an abbey but little else: Norman history really starts a century later, perhaps with the influence of the administratively advanced England which had been conquered in 1066.
The initial story concerns murder, grave-robbing and a little matter of official corruption while Ethelwulf’s intrusion may gain him friends but also powerful enemies. The next one concerns the details of a Benedictine Monastery undermined by factional strife. Then family discord forms the backcloth to the uncovering of fossils and what medieval thinkers thought of them. Then there is a murder mystery – not so difficult if one can look beyond the obvious. Finally his seizure means Ethelwulf faces expulsion to England and certain death. His cousins secure an alliance with Viking pirates and Jersey suffers extreme violence as Ethelwulf is rescued from Gorey castle.
The title comes from the amount of activity eluding the hero – culminating in his arrest. These include: a plot to frame a prominent merchant which results in 3 murders; a plot to take over control of the local Benedictine House by those willing to ‘cooperate more fully’ with the Norman authorities; a plot to seize fossils discovered on Jersey & destroy them as anathema to the Church; a plot to murder a merchant and seize his property; two plots – the first to seize Ethelwulf and send him to his death & the second to organise a pirate raid on the island and so secure Ethelwulf’s release. Mysteries remain: the extra vote in the monastic elections, the future lives of Jeanne, Brendan the Wiry and other villains, what happened to a hoard of fossils and who won the battle of St. Helier.