A sample of the deadly historical intrigue behind the phrase “a king’s ransom.”
As summer wears on in 1193, Eleanor, Dowager Queen of England and Duchess of Aquitaine, is working feverishly to raise the extravagant ransom demanded for the release of her oldest son Richard, King of England, from Germany. John, her sly and ruthless youngest son, is working equally hard to keep Richard rotting in prison. When a shipment of expensive wool, an important ransom contribution, disappears in Wales, Eleanor turns to young Justin de Quincy, one of her most capable men, to recover it. Justin travels to Chester en route to Wales, where he must take into his and the Queen’s confidence his father, Aubrey de Quincy, Bishop of Chester, a man loyal to the Queen who has never acknowledged Justin as his son. At length he learns that Davydd ab Owain, the Welsh prince, was responsible for the loss of the ransom: He’d sent it almost entirely unguarded directly into an ambush. Either Davydd is actually as incompetent as he seems, or, as Justin suspects, there are wheels within wheels turning in Wales.
The third in Penman’s medieval series (Cruel as the Grave, 1998, etc.) sandwiches a polished and absorbing historical mystery in between Justin’s frequent encounters with beautiful women and dangerous men.