Chambers of Death
It is 1284, and no one at the Earl of Lincoln’s castle is having a happy sex life. Those who aren’t gay are having illicit affairs – or trying to – and those who are gay snuggle at night by the kitchen fire and exchange soulful gazes by day. That is, except for Tobye, the groom, who enjoys more “favors” than everyone else combined. But Tobye doesn’t really count because he is killed off almost at the start. Ah, the wages of sin!
In this, the sixth of Priscilla Royal’s Prioress Eleanor mysteries, personal torments seem to outweigh the elements of a good mystery story. The young prioress castigates herself for her decision to travel during the wintertime, for being a factor in a young novice’s consequent illness which forces the party to impose on the earl’s hospitality, for her pride and arrogance, and for still lusting after Brother Thomas, who continues to pray for release from his unnatural desires. From the castle’s steward down to the cook in the kitchen, all are plagued with guilt and fear over real and imagined sins. Perhaps that’s the way things must be in this sin-soaked culture, but the wallowing becomes tedious and one wishes that the author could strike a balance between describing the morbid mindset of her characters and entertaining the reader with a challenging murder puzzle.
Ms. Royal does lift the clouds of self-recrimination enough to allow Eleanor to track Tobye’s killer who has struck twice more, but not before a fourth victim is claimed. The ending is complex and surprising, and the author again displays a rare sensitivity to human frailty. She treats her characters kindly. Hopefully she will add a little joy to their lives in her next volume.