A young lord with a reputation for crime solving is nearly overwhelmed by problems.
In 1351, England struggles to recover from a plague that’s killed half the population. At Somershill Manor, Lord Oswald de Lacy (Plague Land, 2015), a good-hearted, rather priggish young man who spent most of his early years in a monastery until his father and older brothers died and left him a thoroughly unprepared lord, is forbidden by law to pay higher wages to his starving tenants. A more immediate problem arises when one of them, John Barrow, is accused of siring an enormous Butcher Bird, who, it’s claimed, has killed a baby and impaled it on a thorn bush. Impatient with such superstitions, Oswald locks Barrow up for the man's own safety while he tries to find out what really happened. At nearby Versey Castle, Oswald’s sister Clemence, who’s about to give birth, makes Oswald swear that Versey will go to her son. Only Clemence and her mother know that Oswald was switched at birth with the true de Lacy heir, a secret they’re keeping for reasons of their own. Clemence survives a painful childbirth only to be aggravated past endurance by her mischievous young stepdaughters, Mary and Rebecca de Caburn. To spare her, Oswald takes them to Somershill only to see them run off to London to live with their aunt Eloise Cooper, a beautiful woman reputed to be a witch. Oswald grapples with superstition, poverty, and disease both in the country and on his trip to London to retrieve the runaways as he toils to solve the mystery and improve conditions for his tenants before they all desert him or starve.
The second in Sykes’ fine series is a puzzling mystery with a surprise at the end, filled with historical detail and, in Oswald, a slowly growing force to be reckoned with.