Does Norman Ralph Delchard want a cozier role in Marston’s 11th-century series? Aging and complaining about a seventh investigation (The Stallions of Woodstock, 1999, etc.) that seems to involve only bickering between two unequal estates on the Welsh border, Ralph sets forth. But Chester’s churchmen are overwhelmed by escalating military necessities even before William the Conqueror’s investigative team arrives. Balanced by Canon Hubert and lawyer Gervase Bret, ex-soldier Ralph allies himself with the crude despot “Hugh the Gross.” Meantime, Hugh’s adversary, the Earl of Chester, sitting astride his horse in Delamere Forest, watches as mysterious arrows drop his personal hawk and rarest huntsman. Ralph quickly determines that Hugh’s merciless, capricious revenge on Saxon poachers is misdirected. But can the crafty Welsh really be massing an army against the brute strength of Hugh, who holds their Gruffydd ap Cygnan as a princely guarantor of peace? Might a woman actually have shot those arrows? And why is the ebullient but smelly Welsh Archdeacon Idwal on the scene? Doves of peace have no effect against the hawks of war here'but craft does, until Ralph, left behind when Hugh marches off, pulls off a last reversal. Marston redeems early workmanlike prose and missed chances for drama by vivid grotesques (the lumbering Hugh, a dwarfish food-taster, the sheepskin-clad Idwal) and an exciting, fast-paced windup. Too fast. Readers tempted by a complex moral situation and rooting for the underdogs will be shot down like Hugh’s hawk.