In 1235 Canterbury, two monks are asked to investigate into the past deeds and religious beliefs of Domna Cecilia, an elderly widow from southern Germany with possible ties to the Cathar sect. Expecting resistance, they are pleasantly surprised to be greeted by an attractive matron with elegant manners who seems to welcome the opportunity to speak of her old life. As she recounts her tale of passion, betrayal, faith, and mysticism, the monks unexpectedly find their sympathies torn. At the same time, they gradually become caught up in the intrigue surrounding several recent murders, ones possibly involving the Church. Is there any connection between the crimes and Cecilia’s current presence in England?
While the author conveys a good sense of place and period in this literary mystery, much is told about rather than shown, and dialogue is fairly minimal. And while Cecilia’s life story is fascinating, the author’s decision to have her speak about herself in retrospect, rather than place us directly into the action, was a letdown. For all of the dramatic buildup, Cecilia’s final revelations are completely unsurprising, and the novel’s conclusion left me puzzled. Was there meant to be something more?