Doherty's third tale about a pilgrim on the way to Canterbury (An Ancient Evil, 1994; A Tapestry of Murders, 1996), this one narrated by the Franklin: young Richard Greenele, squire to Sir Gilbert Savage, his protector from childhood. As Sir Gilbert lies dying on the battlefield at Poitiers, he instructs Richard to return to England to find the lawyer Hugo Coticol, who will give him information on the deaths of his real father and mother. Richard reluctantly obeys, acquiring on the peril-filled journey two companionsmaster bowman Cuthbert Barleycorn and a trickster named Gildas. Arriving at last in plague-stricken Colchester, the trio discovers that Coticol is dead, but his daughter Emmeline finds the letter left for Richard and joins the group as they travel to the old Greenele estate on Crokehurst island, off the Essex coast. The letter, by one Sir Roger Greenele, describes how he was set up for the murders, at Crokehurst, of his good friends Baron Simon Fitzalan and wife Lady Catherine; how Richard's mother died in a convent; how he was imprisoned and condemned to die. He escaped and reached Coticol's house, but, according to a supplementary letter added by Coticol, was found drowned in the river only days later. Richard realizes that one of the five attendant knights described in his father's letter must have been behind the carnage and the entrapment of his father, and vows to seek out the truth.
There's more, much more, in a story filled with mysterious, skulking strangers, numerous bloody encounters, fatalities by the dozen, endless details of life in the 14th century, a sweet romance, and a nifty denouement that helps redeem the foregoing. Over the top, though, even for Doherty.