Eager to shore up his power against upstart noble William of Roumare, King Stephen of England plans to bind brilliant, honorable Lord Hugh de Leon more closely to him by granting him the hand of beautiful Elizabeth de Beauté. The only problem is that Hugh wants to marry the gifted, compassionate healer Cristen, the daughter of his father Guy de Leon’s vassal Nigel Haslin. A combustible situation—and one that boils over with the news that Elizabeth’s father, whom Stephen had just created Earl of Lincoln in the stead of the dangerous William of Roumare, has been murdered. Hugh, returning to the earl’s castle, the home where he was brought up (No Dark Place, 1999), to investigate his death, finds his adoptive father, the late Sheriff of Lincoln, replaced by the father of Hugh’s childhood enemy, Sir Richard Canville, and sees that his intended bride is as spoiled as she is comely. Wolf’s leisurely pace allows for the arrival of Cristen, summoned telepathically by Hugh; a celebration of St. Agatha’s Fair that will increase the body count; and a trial by mortal combat between Hugh and the unsurprising killer. The front-loaded 12th-century trappings are restricted largely to leaden expository dialogue and descriptions; soon enough Hugh and his friends are grinning inside their hauberks and using contractions.
Medieval Lite, with the characters, as in Anne Perry, graded up or down to the extent that they presciently model the enlightened attitudes of our new millennium.