Things are not going well at the Priory of St. Mary’s at Belstone, an establishment endowed by Sir Rodney and headed by Prioress Lady Elizabeth. The 14th-century Priory is shared, in a series of separate buildings, by priests and nuns—not an unusual arrangement, but one endangered by the scant funding that’s forced the Prioress to allow the place to fall into ruin. Priory treasurer Margharita has complained about Elizabeth’s stewardship to Bishop Bertrand, who’s asked Sir Baldwin de Ferrishill, once a Knight Templar, to investigate. With his old friend Bailiff Simon Puttock and his faithful servant Hugh, he arrives at the Priory to find novice Moll in the infirmary—dead—murdered, according to Godfrey, the Priory’s nearest thing to a doctor. There follows the death of Katerine, a novice whose fall from a slate roof has injured Sir Baldwin and put him in the infirmary, run by able Constance and home to the Priory’s oldest nun Joan, now all but retired. Fighting to retain her post, Elizabeth uncovers the sins of Margharita, reveals sundry romantic entanglements, and, inevitably, nabs a killer.
Jecks manages to make interesting his oddball throng of characters; a clutch of forbidden alliances; some vigorous plot developments; and the era’s background and history—a commendable achievement this first hardcover in a seven-book series.