In all of Southwark, there's no more skilled saddlemaker than Master Mainard, married to shrewish Bertrild but deeply in love with Sabina, the blind whore who lives in the Old Priory Guesthouse, a brothel run by beautiful Magdalene la Bâtarde (A Mortal Bane, 1999). Mainard has installed Sabina in his home, but it seems to all the better part of discretion for Sabina to return to the Guesthouse after Bertrild is found stabbed to death in the back yard. Ensconced in the Old Priory, Sir Bellamy of Itchen (commonly called Bell), an emissary of the Bishop of Winchester and Magdalene's besotted admirer, is attempting to find Bertrild's killer. At length Bell reduces the list of likely suspects to the five men who ply their trade in the area of Mainard's workshop, from which the murder weapon had been stolen. But Bell's investigation is further complicated by the news that Bertrild had been doing a thriving business in blackmail; by a second killing; and by the arrival of Bertrild's uncle Sir Druerie, with his own decided ideas about the murderer's identity.
A host of well-drawn characters and a mass of historical detail make this 12th-century adventure entertaining despite its hopelessly confusing mishmash of a plot.