A lethal fire sends the French king into a state, forcing the queen once more to seek sleuthing help from a scribe who straddles the royal and everyday worlds.
Though merely a woman and not even a member of the court, Christine de Pizan has long been admitted to the presence of Queen Isabeau, a privilege that was invaluable when Christine discovered the identity of a murderer close to the royals (In the Presence of Evil, 2018). Inspired by Christine’s success with the previous investigation, Queen Isabeau once again relies on the scribe’s resourcefulness when she calls upon Christine to begin another informal investigation. The king hasn’t been himself since a recent ball, when a torch thrown from the musicians’ area killed four men. The queen, who doesn’t believe the rumors blaming the once-popular Duke of Orléans, wants to learn the true identity of the killer. Much to her mother Francesca’s horror, Christine seeks support from her clever friend Marion, whose excellent connections depend at least partly on her work as a prostitute. But Francesca doesn’t have much social capital with Christine after bringing home a strange woman who appears determined to antagonize Christine’s otherwise well-behaved children. The woman, who Francesca explains is Martin du Bois’ wife, Klara, appears to have been abandoned by her husband. So Christine and Marion add trying to locate him to their to-do list. Christine suspects that the secret of the king’s sorry state and the fatal torch-throwing may lie in the queen’s inner circle of misfits, who are largely ignored by others in the court. She makes a special effort to get to know Alips, the queen’s dwarf, who may be the key to unraveling the mystery.
Historical details drive this period puzzle, whose heroine provides a steady presence against a backdrop of characters constantly fighting against their time and stations.