The brutal reign of King John makes life difficult for all England, including the people who live in and near Hawkenlye Abbey.
With England under an interdict from the pope, King John is squeezing every penny from his people, leaving many starving and homeless. Some have taken to robbery and rape. When the bodies of three such men are found buried near the abbey, one of them with strange marks carved into his chest, the sheriff asks for help from Sir Josse D’Acquin. Josse has his own problems feeding his people. The woman he loves, former abbess Helewise, is moving back to her cell near the abbey to help the sick and starving. His son Ninian is still in France, entangled with a religious group hunted by the powers that be. Ninian’s love, Little Helewise, is pregnant, and Josse’s daughter Meggie is involved with a foreigner who is suspected of the murders. When more miscreants are killed, the sovereign's lackeys launch a search for the killer, and Meggie and her new friend flee to France. They are soon followed by Josse and Helewise, who hope to find Ninian and tell him that he can return because he is no longer accused of murder. In the meantime, another man is captured and incarcerated at the abbey, where only the current abbess and her nuns are left to help him.
Like other entries in this pleasing series (The Rose of the World, 2011, etc.), this one is much stronger on history than mystery.