Thursday, October 21, 2010
Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II, has died an agonizing death by poison-and the king's estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the prime suspect. Henry suspects that Rosamund's murder is probably the first move in Eleanor's long-simmering plot to overthrow him. If Eleanor is guilty, the result could be civil war. The king must once again summon Adelia Aguilar, mistress of the art of death, to uncover the truth.
Adelia is not happy to be called out of retirement. She has been living contentedly in the countryside, caring for her infant daughter, Allie. But Henry's summons cannot be ignored, and Adelia must again join forces with the king's trusted fixer, Rowley Picot, the Bishop of St. Albans, who is also her baby's father.
Adelia and Rowley travel to the murdered courtesan's home, in a tower within a walled labyrinth-a strange and sinister place from the outside, but far more so on the inside, where a bizarre and gruesome discovery awaits them. But Adelia's investigation is cut short by the appearance of Rosamund's rival: Queen Eleanor. Adelia, Rowley, and the other members of her small party are taken captive by Eleanor's henchmen and held in the nunnery of Godstow, where Eleanor is holed up for the winter with her band of mercenaries, awaiting the right moment to launch their rebellion.
Isolated and trapped inside the nunnery by the snow and cold, Adelia and Rowley watch as dead bodies begin piling up. Adelia knows that there may be more than one killer at work, and she must unveil their true identities before England is once again plunged into civil war . . .
Another clever medieval historical mystery involving mistress of the art of death, Adelia Aguilar, who, now a mother, still uses her doctoring skills and winds up investigating the poisoning of the lady Rosamund Clifford, King Henry II's mistress.
I was a bit taken aback at first, since a lot has happened since the first book in the series ended. Adelia is now a mother, and the father of her baby, Rowley has taken an oath of celibacy to be one of the King’s bishops! Huh? But, I kept telling myself, hah! He’ll never keep that oath! (I was right.) When the Lady Rosamund becomes ill from poisoned mushrooms, Rowley is dispatched to fetch Adelia by King Henry. She is an expert on poisons, death and forensic medicine. It is an awkward reunion for them, the first they’ve seen of each other since the baby’s birth. They remain at arm’s length, though Rowley, unabashedly, coddles and dotes over their baby, Allie, speaking “baby talk” to the infant as any proud papa would –priest or no!
Adelia reluctantly agrees to go with Rowley, she doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Upon arrival at the abbey where Rosamund lives, it’s apparent she is dead, only they find a macabre death scene. Rosamund the fair, is no longer so fair. In fact, she is fat. That’s a surprise. But the real kicker is, her body is sitting up at a desk, as if she died while writing, stiff with rigor mortis. In front of her are letters she had been writing to Queen Eleanor, expounding on how much Henry is in love with her and how one day she will be the rightful queen. Very odd. No sooner does Adelia begin to examine the dead body but Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry’s queen shows up herself! The whole scenario is very bizarre, and becomes even more so when Rosamund’s faithful housekeeper, Dame Dakers, tries to kill Eleanor of Aquitaine by jumping out from a hidden garderobe! Adelia prevents the murder, thus granting herself a bit of good will from the queen, though the rest of Eleanor’s followers have no love for Adelia, nor Rowley.
A full cast of characters enters onto the scene and it’s up to Adelia to figure out which one of them is behind the poisoning of Rosamund. Henry’s wily queen is the obvious mastermind behind the murder, but that’s too obvious for Adelia and Rowley. Rowley believes it’s someone else, who wants to make it look like Eleanor in order to start a Civil War between Eleanor’s followers and Henry’s. Eleanor has been under house arrest by Henry for several years and has just escaped from France to join forces with her eldest son, Prince Harry to overthrow Henry II. The time is ripe for rebellion and Adelia is smack dab in the middle of the snake pit of political intrigue and murder that surrounds Eleanor's retinue.
Who is the real culprit? In the dead of winter, Eleanor insists on taking everyone to Godstow, a nunnery. There they spend Christmas. At least Adelia is reunited with her baby, Allie and her friend and servant, Gyltha. Adelia begins her inquiries which puts her in even further danger from the real assassin and his employer. Plus, Allie’s life is threatened as well, which completely scares Adelia to death! The killer is warning her – don’t get too nosy! Meanwhile, Rowley has snuck off, faking his death in order to enlist the help of Henry II and his men. Can they make it to Godstow in time before the assassin responsible for Rosamund’s death - and the ensuing death of her maid – does away with Adelia as well? The bigger and burning question is - does Rowley ever break his vow in this book? ;)
It’s a clever mystery and no matter how much I love them, I’m awful at figuring out who the real villain is in mysteries. I’m the worst at picking up clues and mannerisms, probably because I’m listening to this on audio, instead of reading it, so I do miss things while emptying the dishwasher and making dinner. To say the least, I was stumped again about who was the mastermind, though I did guess the assassin. Kate Reading was the narrator on audio and she did a great job, as always. Her accents are believable for the men as well as the women.
This is a really interesting and absorbing series and I recommend it. Modern forensics and medieval history combined in one detailed and, at times, suspenseful novel. All the characters have their own macabre and detailed character flaws that bring them to life. I hear the next one, Grave Goods, is even better, I’m eager to get to it now.