It's the year 1369, and once again York's one-eyed ex-soldier Owen Archer (The King's Bishop, 1996, etc.) undertakes a missionreluctantly. York is suffering an onslaught of the plague, and Owen's apothecary wife Lucie needs his comforting presence, having sent their children to her father in the countryside. But Owen has been asked by York's Archbishop John Thoresby and his nephew Richard de Ravenser, the Master of St. Leonard's Hospital, to find what lies behind the troubles at the hospital, beset by rumors of murder and infamy. Several of its corrodiansthose who make generous gifts in return for lifetime carehave died in strange circumstances; costly treasures have vanished; there's gossip about illicit liaisons with Honoria de Stainesonce a woman of the street, now a lay sister being trained as a nurse. Another of Owen's problems is 11-year-old Alisoun Ffulford. Her parents have died of plague, leaving her alone on their shabby farm, but she refuses to stay with kinfolk, going instead into the care of St. Leonard's, where lay sister Anneys presents another mystery. With help from tavernkeeper Bess Merchet, niece of one of the dead corrodians, and from witchlike Magda Digby, called Riverwoman, Owen eventually finds the puzzle's complex answers rooted in injustices of the past.
Robb writes lyrically, as always, and her characters are vivid and believable. But there are simply too many of them, as well as so many criss-crossing ties and connections that suspense and lucidity ebb away. Worth reading for the crystalline picture of time and place, then, but less compelling than the previous four in this series.
“Absorbing...An engrossing puzzle.” Publishers Weekly
“Well-crafted and interesting...An altogether enjoyable process.” Chicago Tribune
“An engrossing historical mystery.” Seattle Times