There are two reasons for 15th-century English peddler Roger the Chapman to visit bustling, rat-infested London. First, to let his second wife Adela, in the early stages of pregnancy, see the city and the betrothal ceremony of two noble children little more than babies. And, second, to understand why King Edward wants to execute his brother, the Duke of Clarence, and find out what Roger’s benefactor—the king’s other brother, the Duke of Gloucester—plans to do about it. Gloucester asks Roger to call on the king’s mistress and enlist her help in getting his brother released. Mistress Shore agrees, but only if Roger will prove her cousin Isolda innocent of poisoning her husband Gideon, thereby setting Roger up for what he does best: solve murders. He finds no shortage of suspects, from Isolda’s cousins Kit and Nell, one of whom may have been having an affair with her and the other with her late husband, to her goldsmith father’s intended, the widow Perle, whom Gideon may have been blackmailing about her affair with a neighbor. It’s also clear that Toby, the goldsmith’s apprentice, is lying. Finally, all too many of this precious circle either ordered poison from the nearest apothecary or had access to it in the household. Adela unintentionally provides the clue that absolves Isolda, though providing no help at all for poor Clarence.
A far cry below The Wicked Winter (1999). Even so, few medieval mysteries rival Sedley’s for verve, descriptive prowess, and authenticity.