Death Before Compline

Written by Sharan Newman
Review by Justin M. Lindsay

Mysteries abound in this compilation of previously published medieval short stories. A wolf that seems to be much more than a normal beast. Muddy footprints that keep reappearing on the convent’s clean floor. A dismembered body found packed into a wine barrel. A beloved woman found dead in the ruins of her burned-down house. Construction delays, and then a death at the site of a new abbey. A bride whose previous three suitors have all died of mysterious causes. Trouble among the philosophers of Arab Cordoba. Each of these provides a springboard for its own short story.

Most of the tales follow Catherine LeVendeur, the heroine of Newman’s novels. We see her solving mysteries both at home and abroad, as a young woman, as a lay sister, and later as a mother. The last two follow one of Catherine’s companions, a Jew named Solomon. Seven short stories, an introduction, a collection of medieval recipes, and a bibliography spread out over only 120 pages make for a quick read. Though murder is at the core of most of the mysteries, the overall tone of Death Before Compline is a light one, at least with Catherine’s stories. Solomon’s are darker and more thoughtful.

Newman is an obvious master of the 12th-century medieval setting. She knows her stuff and she knows her characters. Readers looking for something medieval but light, something that can be read in only a sitting or two, will enjoy it, as will Newman’s fans.