By Alys Clare
Hodder & Stoughton - November 2001
ISBN 0340793279 - Hardcover
Historical Crime
1192, Kent and The Fens, England

Reviewed by: Rachel A Hyde,
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Here is the fourth outing for those mediaeval sleuths Abbess Helewise of Hawkenlye Abbey and Sir Josse d'Acquin, This time, the latter is ill with a fever and tossing fretfully in the Abbey's infirmary, so it is all up to the Abbess to sort out the problems concerning the newest arrivals - the unbalanced Alba and her two young sisters who have recently lost their parents. Alba says that she has left an abbey in the Fens where she was happy in order to see her siblings settled, but somehow this act of charity fits ill with the troublesome nature of the new nun. When one of Alba's sisters goes missing and Alba herself threatens the Abbess, it is bad enough but then a pilgrim is murdered so it is up to Helewise to go forth and travel to the mysterious drowned landscape of the Fens to find out what exactly the secret is. She is going to have a few nasty surprises.

If you enjoyed Ellis Peters' seminal works of historical crime, this is the same mix of monastic skulduggery and 12th century history as Abbess Helewise (wh, like Cadfael, has come to the order after living a full life) has to find out whodunit and deal with the everyday concerns of Abbey life, interspersed with odd bit of politics.

This is a series that gets better steadily with each book (this is the fourth) and this has a good teasing plot with mounting tension and is exactly the right length. Missing this time was any plot space given to the historic problems involving John as Regent and the ransom of King Richard, but there is surely time to bring this in later in the series.

In the early books, Sir Josse and Helewise lacked the well-rounded personalities of Brother Cadfael and Sister Frevisse but are beginning to become more lively and interesting. This time the sick Josse wasn't really missed. On the whole, this is not a series that is read for the characters, but for the absorbing plot. It did keep me turning pages and I can say that this series is good…but still not great.

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