A serial killer strikes London in 1381.
Someone has been brutally murdering prostitutes, leaving them with their throats cut, naked save for some outlandish red wigs. It’s clearly a case for Athelstan, the Dominican parish priest who, together with his friend Sir John Cranston, Lord High Coroner of London, has solved many a perplexing crime (The Mansions of Murder, 2018, etc.)—even though they must also look into the mysterious case of the royal ship The Knave of Hearts, loaded with gunpowder and gold as it left on a trip to France, which blew up on the Thames, leaving no survivors. London is rife with rumors about the Oriflamme, whose name has not been spoken in almost 20 years. Back when England’s armies were ravaging Normandy earlier in the Hundred Years’ War, a man of that name was leader of a gang using the war barge Le Sans Dieu, or "The Godless," as a base for killing, plundering, and torturing women who were left dead or dying, wearing red wigs like the one the Oriflamme himself wore along with a white mask and a woman’s dress. Because one of the lost was a woman of high birth, the French are now in London seeking revenge. Many who served in France, enriched by the plunder, now lead respectable lives, but they’re still haunted by the sins of the past. These include members of Athelstan’s parish like Godbless, who turns up dead in a building that appears to be locked from inside. Athelstan and Cranston must tap all their many sources to find clues to the Oriflamme’s identity as he continues to kill at will.
The mystery this time takes second place to some unpleasant historical truths: gruesome portraits of murder in a London so squalid it may make your hair stand on end.