The Owls of Gloucester

Written by Edward Marston
Review by Susie Helme

This 11th-century whodunit centres on Gloucester Abbey, where a monk, Brother Nicholas, collector of the abbey’s rents, has been murdered. The body is discovered in the belltower by two novices, Kenelm and Elaf, escaping a beating. They admit they didn’t like the way Brother Nicholas ‘looked at’ them. We can guess.  Ralph Delchard and Gervase Bret are on the King’s business, administering the Great Survey. As Sheriff Durand begins his investigation of the murder, Ralph and Gervase deliberate on local property issues at the shire hall. The wives, Golde and Maud, enter the story, as well as Abbot Serlo and Brother Frewine. At the shire hall, we encounter local landowners, both conquering and conquered, making up a panoply of interesting characters.

As is usual in detective stories, the Sheriff rushes off down a blind alley, needing the king’s commissioners to lead him to the right path, assistance which is, of course, much resented by said Sheriff. Meanwhile, the abbot and his monks conduct their own inquiry, and each party is not sharing their findings with the others. We discover that the local property disputes have very much to do with the murder of Brother Nicholas.

An easy read—might be accessible to an older-end YA audience, too—not chock full of detail about the period, yet I didn’t find any anachronisms. I don’t think the property cases dealt with by Ralph and Gervase are historic, but they are believable, and there was, indeed, a Strang the Dane listed in the Domesday Book as a property owner dispossessed in 1066. If you loved Brother Cadfael, you’ll love this series. I found the concept of the series positively inspired—detective cases encountered while on the business of William the Conqueror’s survey. This is book ten in the eleven-book Domesday Series.