The Novice’s Tale (Oxford Medieval Mysteries 2)

Written by Ann Swinfen
Review by Bridget Walsh

This book continues the series based around the main character, Nicholas Elyot, an Oxford bookseller and widower, who solves crimes in his spare time. It is a medieval tale set in Oxford in the summer of 1353. In this novel, Nicholas meets Emma Thorgold (Sister Benedicta), a reluctant novice nun, at a convent in Oxfordshire, by chance, and is immediately drawn to her. He makes excuses to go and visit the convent in the hope of seeing her again. With the help of his friend, Jordain Brinkylsworth, Nicholas tries to unravel the reasons for Emma’s situation at the convent. Why is she there and why can’t she leave, when she clearly does not want to become a nun? Nicholas is under time pressure, as Emma is soon to take her final vows.  A cruel novice mistress and a scheming step-father are just two of the characters that make this a must-read. Can Nicholas solve the mystery and help Emma?

Narrated from two points of view, the first person for Nicholas and the third person for Emma, the characters are sympathetically depicted. The reader will empathise with Emma when she is whipped by her novice mistress for paddling in the nearby river. Emma has only one friend and that is her dog, Jocosa. Nicholas Eylot is a superb mass of contradictions. He is an intelligent businessman yet he is beset with worries and doubts about what he should do for Emma. He can’t decide whether to call her Emma or Sister Benedicta. This combination of an intriguing storyline, well-drawn and sympathetic main characters, together with the increasingly violent antagonist, all combine to produce an entertaining story with a dramatic ending sure to satisfy the reader, at the same time as leaving the reader wanting more.