A Dominican priest is tasked yet again with solving several locked-room murders.
In 1381, John of Gaunt is regent of England. He is a fierce and ambitious man whose authority is challenged by rebels who call themselves the Upright Men. Gaunt invites Brother Athelstan and Sir John Cranston, Lord High Coroner of London, to a mystery play performed by the Straw Men, Gaunt’s personal acting troupe. The performance at the Tower of London is interrupted by the deaths and wounding of guests, and two severed heads are left at the scene. So Gaunt orders Athelstan, who’s well-known for his knack for solving difficult problems (Bloodstone, 2012, etc.), to unmask the killer. When one of the troupe is found dead at the foot of the Tower, it looks as if he was escaping after the attack, but Athelstan is not convinced. Athelstan is already walking a fine line between the regent and the Upright Men, who each have spies in his parish and even in the highest reaches of their enemies’ councils. Perhaps the deaths have something to do with the mysterious woman Gaunt has locked in the Tower. Rumors swirl amid street battles and revenge killings in the squalid, frozen streets of London. More murders follow before Athelstan can gather up the pieces of the cunning puzzle and put them together to solve the crimes.
Close attention will reward readers with well-researched historical information, from the minutiae of everyday living to the public events in the lives of the rich and powerful. Mystery buffs, however, are likely to reach the answer before Athelstan.