A visit to a treasured childhood home involves Sir Josse d’Acquin and his wife, Helewise, in yet another murder.
In February 1212, Josse and Helewise (The Winter King, 2014, etc.) have undertaken a frigid journey to visit his elderly Uncle Hugh, his mother’s brother. Josse spent many happy periods at Southfire Hall as a youth enjoying the company of his cousins, especially the daring Aeleis. Although they are warmly welcomed, the pair soon notice that the family is very tense indeed. The trouble seems to be caused by Cyrille de Picus, the wife of Herbert, Josse’s oldest cousin Isabelle’s son. Cyrille is cold, bossy, and cruel to Olivar, her son from a former marriage, whom Herbert, lacking any male offspring, means to adopt as his heir. The arrival of a young man injured nearby in a riding accident creates a mystery when Josse discovers that the man, who calls himself Peter Southey, has in his possession a carved chess figure that Josse is certain belongs to Aeleis, who ran off after refusing to marry an older man Hugh had chosen for her. He remembers well that Aeleis found the figure while she and Josse were investigating the undercroft of Southfire Hall, parts of which date back to Roman times. Peter seems to be improving, so when he suddenly dies, Josse and Helewise grow suspicious. The atmosphere in the house is increasingly uncomfortable. Olivar continues to have terrifying nightmares; Cyrille becomes even more unpleasant. Uncle Hugh may hold the answer to some of Josse’s questions, but his drifting in and out of lucidity leaves Josse and Helewise to solve the riddle on their own.
Of all Clare’s charmingly mystical looks at life and death in 13th-century England, this one-sitting read is by far the purest mystery.