The Dragon of Handale

Written by Cassandra Clark
Review by Mary F. Burns

Fifth in the Abbess Hildegard mystery series, this installment sees Hildegard returning to England after a year abroad, with the decision before her to rejoin her order or not. She is sent to Handale Priory in deepest Yorkshire to help clear her mind—fat chance! Murder, superstition, punishingly severe surroundings, and ambiguously “religious” nuns, who run the place with an iron fist, all combine to put Hildegard on edge and wondering just exactly what is going on, that everyone seems intent on keeping her from finding out.

I have not read any earlier books in the series, but that didn’t interfere with following the story line, especially with handy references to past issues that were fairly transparent (e.g., lost lovers, previous political intrigues). Overall, it’s an entertaining read, but I didn’t feel connected to the main characters in a sympathetic way, and this led to a lack of urgency in solving the mystery. In my opinion, the descriptions of medieval life and customs, especially in regard to the Priory, bordered on clichés, or else were overly gruesome depictions of punishment and superstition, and thus fairly unpleasant for this reader.