Sir Robert Carey, the ingratiating Elizabethan Age hero of A Famine of Horses (1995), is once again in Carlisle, near the Scottish border--this time as the newly appointed Deputy Warden of the English West March under Lord Warden Sir Thomas Scrope, the husband of his sister Philadelphia. Robert is immediately made aware of the enmity of Sir Richard Lowther, who wants his job and envies his perks as cousin to the Queen. Scarcely settled in, Robert also gets word of a plot by the infamous Graham clan to kidnap for ransom Lady Elizabeth Widdrington, Philadelphia's friend and the love of Robert's life--married, unhappily, to frosty Sir Henry Widdrington. With the help of sturdy, sensible Sergeant Henry Dodd and his spirited patrol, Robert defeats that foray but, returning to the Castle, finds his dissolute but faithful servant Barnabus cast into the dungeon on Lowther's charge of murder. The victim is Jemmy Atkinson, found with his throat slit and Barnabus's knife and a glove of Robert's carefully placed on the body. This mess proves more difficult to resolve, involving as suspects not only Barnabus but Atkinson's wife Kate, her lover Andy Nixon, and others--corruption and greed a leitmotif throughout. With Robert acting as friend of the court, the murderer emerges in a dramatic climax that may signal a career change for our hero. Patience may be tried with the story's sluggish start--replete with minor acts of skulduggery amid a gaggle of near-incomprehensible accents. Matters improve, with a satisfying sweep to the finish, but, still, this falls short of its predecessor.