In Canterbury, a miraculous ruby that supposedly contains the blood of Christ, the Lacrima Christi, is stolen from the church where it is displayed. The next day, the Knight who owned the Ruby is struck down as he makes his weekly pilgrimmage to the heart of the hedge maze on his estate. Not only is he killed, but his head has been cut off with a single stroke from an axe, and it seems that comrades from the Knight's past in the Holy Land have risen up out of the darkness to do him in. Or have they?
Kathryn Swinbrooke, now engaged to Colum Murtaugh and planning their wedding, is called to investigate both crime scenes. For the theft, there is a witness, a thief called Lars Tibi, who has been recieving sanctuary in the church after being chased as a thief in the town market. But he says he saw no one, and he doesn't have the stone, nor is there anywhere he could hide it that it wouldn't be found. This is true, so he is dropped as a suspect fairly quickly. A few days later, however, he disappears from the church without a sight, and the constables who had been waiting outside all the entrances to the church are extremely angry at that, for they wanted to arrest him for his crimes and bring him to justice.
Meanwhile, out at the estate of Sir Walter Maltravers, Kathryn is menaced by an unseen watcher who nearly kills her when she goes to investigate the many passages under the keep. But what did she do to set off this person who wishes to kill her? She investigates all the people at the keep and finds another body, this of a dead servant girl who worked in the keep. She accused one of the other girls of taking a necklace that belonged to her, but later found the necklace and realized she was mistaken. Was her killing related to that incident, or did it have something to do with Sir Walter's killing?
Suspects are many, but time is short when Sir Walter's wife announces her intention to quit the keep and return to the bosom of her family. She will be dismissing the entire staff, as she believes one or more of them had something to do with the death of her husband. But then she is poisoned, and nearly dies, and the next day, another one of the staff dies at the keep. Who was responsible for her poisoning, and the death of her husband and the servant girl? Was it the two women related to the former family that owned the keep, who Sir Walter allowed to live on his lands as a sign of charity? Or was it really the Athanatoi, who had been sending Sir Walter threating notes telling him his time of doom was at hand? Can Kathryn puzzle out the clues before all her suspects are dead or gone?
This book had one of the twistiest plots I have ever encountered, and it turned out in a way I didn't suspect, for both crimes. Kathryn, with her sharp eye for detail, is an excellent investigator, but her lack of foresight leads to some very close calls for both her and Colum.
When all is said and done, though, the ending is satisfying, and comes down to a game of "Good Cop/Bad Cop" and misleading the criminal, although the one Kathrrn confronts is not the true villain, as we find out in the end, only a pawn of the true villain, although they use the confession to arrest the mastermind behind the plot. This book reminded me a great deal of "Murder on the Orient Express", and I liked it not only for the plot, but the wonderful sense of place that the author instills in you. You not only feel like you are reading about another place and time, but that you have actually opened a window into it, and are reading a work of non-fiction.
This book is excellent and I will be reading the sequel soon.