Once again it's the late 16th century and England's Sir Robert Carey is beset with problems (A Season of Knives, 1996, etc.). As Deputy Warden of the West March in Carlisle, near the Scotch border, he must deal with marauding bands of Scots and with other enemies on the English side as well--among them his brother-in-law Lord Scrope, whose henchman Lowther is temporarily chief of the armory where a shipment of arms from the Queen has recently been stored. When a gun from this shipment blows up in the hand of one of his men, Long George Little, killing him, Carey knows there's trouble ahead. After he and his trusted right-hand man Sergeant Dodd find the armory guns missing, Carey follows a trail, with only Dodd and a couple of others, over the border to the Court of King James of Scotland in Dumfries. And a tangled trail it is--good guns and deadly ones; gun merchants and foreigners; a homosexual King and his arrogant favorite Lord Spynie; and Carey's married true love Elizabeth Widdrington, who, in the end, defies her sadistic husband to effect Carey's rescue from prison and torture, sending him back to Carlisle shaken but with mission accomplished. The author's feel for the language and the rags and riches of the period are undiminished, but the plotting here can best be described in a quote from Carey to his sister: ``Oh, God, Philly, why does everything have to be so complicated?'' A lively read for the history buff but unlikely to make new fans.