Murder at Beaulieu Abbey (An Abbess of Meaux mystery, 11)

Written by Cassandra Clark
Review by Martha Hoffman

In late 14th-century England, Cistercian nun Hildegard of Meaux is sent by her superior to the Abbey of Beaulieu to observe where the monks there stand on the schism in the church and the existence of two popes. At stake is the governance of all affiliated religious houses in England. Officially, however, Hildegard is there to escort a young heiress to her future husband’s family. Her companions on the journey are the monks Egbert and Gregory, veteran guards of the pilgrimage route to Jerusalem.

Once the trio arrive at the Abbey, the heiress becomes the main concern, as she is kidnapped immediately upon arrival. Hildegard’s mission is now to recover the girl and to uncover who killed a lay brother guarding one of the outer buildings. The Abbey is a complex and sprawling enclosure, containing various types of lands and communities. It’s a little hard to gain foothold in that territory or to really know where to focus in the plot and the many characters. The story moves fast, and the resolution is interesting, although it doesn’t exactly have the feel of pieces coming together.

While the main character is a nun, there is no real sense of her life as a religious. Over the course of the book, moreover, three different relationship possibilities emerge for Hildegard, one hinted at from a previous storyline, another unfolding from the longing of one of her monk companions, and a third coming startlingly close to consummation in the person of a kind of king of bandits. Making the main character a nun seems like a convenience, but maybe that’s consistent to her backstory, which is only hinted at here. Perhaps those who are already readers of the series will find these details and the hints of a romantic storyline satisfying and significant.