God’s plan for a medieval prioress evidently requires her to solve tricky crimes.
Prioress Eleanor is accompanying her brother Robert and his very pregnant wife, Elizabeth, to the English side of a Welsh border alight with rebellion against King Edward I in 1282. With her are her constant companions, Sister Anne, a fine midwife and healer, and Brother Thomas, the monk Eleanor secretly loves, who harbors a dangerous secret of his own. Soon after the birth, Eleanor is approached by Abbot Gerald, whose priest has been murdered, apparently by a ghost. The hangman Bardolph identifies the man he saw kneeling by Father Payn’s body as Hywel, a Welshman he recently hanged for murder. While Eleanor and Anne examine the body, a despondent Thomas wanders the town agonizing over his relationship with the spy and wine purveyor Durant. Their relationship remains unconsummated because both have reservations over breaking a monastic vow. It turns out that Hywel had to be hanged twice, for the gallows broke the first time, and many thought him innocent of the crime he was accused of committing. Sister Anne believes that Father Payn died of natural causes, but the locals remain convinced that the ghost of Hywel haunts the village. The next to die is Bardolph, who’s found hanged from his own gallows. As Eleanor, Anne, and Thomas ask further questions, Thomas gets tangled in the affairs of a spice merchant who has sexual designs on him. Delving deeper into the murders, they uncover secrets that may lead to an answer they suspect is not supernatural after all.
The 15th adventure for Royal’s clever, conflicted prioress (Wild Justice, 2018, etc.) continues her mastery of the medieval, provides a mystery that’s twisty but not impenetrable, and advances the ongoing story of the problematic sexual relationships of the continuing cast.