The Monastery Murders (A Stanton and Barling Mystery)
The Monastery Murders is the second of E.M. Powell’s mysteries set in the late 12th century and featuring the crime-fighting duo Stanton and Barling. Aelred Barling is a straitlaced, grumpy king’s clerk, sent out under sufferance from his beloved court to investigate crimes when the local authorities are at a loss. His assistant Hugo Stanton is an intelligent, pleasure-loving and seemingly light-hearted ex-royal messenger.
The novel opens with the horrific discovery that a quiet, devoted monk in a remote Cistercian monastery has been brutally murdered. Barling is asked by the Abbot to investigate. Initially there seems no motive for the crime, but while the monastery is cut off by a huge snowstorm, more deaths, each with a grisly new motif, occur. Barling and Stanton begin to realise that they are dealing with a murderer obsessed by sin and damnation. It becomes clear that there is a master plan – which may include their own deaths.
The author skilfully builds tension and excitement as the crimes escalate and the pool of suspects narrows. The main characters fit into a familiar pattern, but in Powell’s hands, the trope of ‘grumpy older detective with younger, happy-go-lucky sidekick’ retains its charm. A very enjoyable read.