Elegy to Murder: A Medieval Mystery

Written by Priscilla Royal
Review by Judith Starkston

Elegy to Murder is the latest medieval mystery featuring Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas. Royal succeeds in creating sympathy for her characters and drawing us deep into the medieval way of thinking. She accomplishes this feat, even though, if not for Royal’s skillful writing and the total immersion of her reader, her characters’ moral crises might feel distant, occasionally even offensive to modern audiences. Royal’s compelling novel gives readers the gift of seeing the world through another’s eyes and listening with open hearts.

The novel begins in May 1283 with Crowner Ralf attempting to intercept smugglers who are avoiding King Edward’s taxes, levied to fund his unpopular wars and castle-building. All Ralf really wants to do is get home to his ailing wife. The source of her ill health is one of the aspects where Royal gives us both insight and compassion into less easily accepted parts of medieval life.

Back at Eleanor’s priory, multiple problems disrupt life, from the lasting effects of guilt over sexual sins to mother-son conflict. Then a well-liked newcomer to the village is beaten and only narrowly saved from death. Before anyone can solve that crime, a merchant on pilgrimage is murdered just outside the priory gates. Eleanor sends for Ralf, desperate to avoid offending the king by interfering in a secular crime, but she and Thomas are on their own for far longer than they expected as Ralf’s progress mires to a halt. He suspects a spy. The threads tying together the various crises of conscience and criminal activities resonate richly and offer surprising twists. Priscilla Royal has given us a highly recommended addition to this long-running marvel of a series.