This first novel in a new mystery series introduces Sister Hildegard, a Cistercian nun who wants nothing more than to find a suitable grange on which to found her own modest priory. Instead she is dragged into intrigue when she finds five dead bodies hanging from a gibbet in the middle of the woods and a murdered young man in the undergrowth nearby. Later, when visiting old friends at Castle Hutton in Yorkshire, someone attempts to poison Roger, lord of the manor. The offended man plays dead and allows a mock funeral to be performed in his honour whilst Hildegard and Ulf, his steward, struggle to uncover the culprit. Meanwhile two servants are murdered in cold blood; Roger’s ‘widow’ is abducted; and Roger’s brother and sister-in-law attempt to pass off the wet nurse’s baby girl as the new male heir.
This is a fast-paced read with some colourful scenes, although the suspense is somewhat undermined by incongruous intrusions of slapstick comedy, such as a Pythonesque scene in which a house cat savages an armed warrior. The writing itself seems rather weak in places, but it may appeal to those who enjoy their medieval fiction with a generous helping of Castle Anthrax.