Although he usually solves murders at the request of the Duke of Gloucester (The Goldsmith’s Daughter, 2001, etc.), 15th-century peddler/sleuth Roger the Chapman acts on his own this time to investigate the stabbing of much loathed Jasper Fairbrother, a usurer, blackmailer, and baker in his adopted home town of Bristol. Suspicion first falls on a visiting Breton seen arguing with Fairbrother, but while he’s recuperating in Mistress Ford’s nearby cottage from a beating at the hands of the King’s men, who thought him a Tudor spy, someone creeps in and smothers him. Then Fairbrother’s loutish assistant drowns and Mistress Ford is also dispatched, bringing the ten-day death toll to four. Rival baker John Overbecks now has his hands full handling his and Fairbrother’s customers, preparing the centerpieces for the Lammas feast day, and watching over his simple-minded wife, who keeps abducting the Chapman’s new baby (to the delight of his jealous half-brother and sister). Sheriff’s assistant Richard Manifold, a former suitor of the Chapman’s wife, is flummoxed, but since a nun’s testimony implicates poor Roger, he settles on him as the author at least of Mistress Ford’s demise. The Chapman will, of course, exonerate himself and, in time, pinpoint a murderous alliance meant to safeguard secrets held close since the long-ago massacres in Brittany.
A tetchy, often amusing glimpse of medieval domesticity in which two adults, two toddlers, one screaming baby, one love-starved dog, and countless fleas share a single room while Lancaster, York, and less political contingents roam the countryside.