A Parliament of Spies

Written by Cassandra Clark

1368, in the reign of Richard II. Richard has summoned Parliament, and all the nobles must attend him at Westminster which includes the Archbishop of York, Alexander Neville. Accompanying him is Hildegard of Meaux, a Cistercian abbess. On the morning they are due to leave York, one of the kitchen servants is found dead, in a vat of ale, but there is no time to investigate it now as the company must be on the road to London. The journey to the capital is not without incident: first an armed band attacks them in some woodland, and then a falconer is murdered at St. Albans. On reaching London it is feared that the French are about to attack and further plots, counterplots and rumours of plots abound. Can Hildegarde, who has a knack of solving mysteries, explain what is going on? Is the King in danger?

This is the third book in the Hildegarde of Meaux series. The plot twists and turns in various directions which I found difficult to follow at times. It was as if the author had had a number of random ideas for creating a mystery and decided to include them all. The background is genuine enough – Richard’s uneasy hold on the throne; Bolingbroke waiting in the wings; the aftermath of the Peasants’ Revolt – but somehow it did not marry with the storyline. Even at the end I found the final explanation to be almost an anti-climax.

Abbess Hildegarde is following in the footsteps of Sister Frevisse of whom many readers will be familiar, but I fear she has much to learn.