Which is worse: the plague raging outside the isolated castle or the killer lurking inside?
After a turbulent adventure in Venice (City of Masks, 2017), the year 1361 finds Oswald de Lacy, Lord Somershill, back in England, where the plague still rages. He and his desperate family find refuge in Castle Eden, situated on an isolated isle. It’s the home of Godfrey, an old family friend whom they encounter outside the castle supervising the burning of a plague house, with the corpses of the disease-stricken residents still inside—not the most auspicious introduction. Oswald works hard to quell the fears of the rest of his party—his mother; his wife, Filomena; son Hugh; and Sandro, his young valet—but the level of collective angst is high. The fact that Godfrey has prepared a coffin for each of his guests gives Oswald pause. Even odder is Godfrey’s determination to leave the castle at will on personal business. Oswald is unable to dissuade him from this foolhardy plan. The next morning, Godfrey’s devoted servant, Alice Cross, reports that the clockmakers have found her master dead in their wooden chest. Oswald, who has some experience in these matters, steps up to investigate. Godfrey’s brother, Edwin, volunteers to assist him, but his intermittent drunkenness makes him of little help. The colorful array of suspects includes an imperious lord, a nervous doctor, a light-fingered young Dutchman, and the castle fool.
Sykes’ fourth is anchored in a grimly evocative first-person narrative reminiscent of Poe, and there’s a whodunit to boot.