Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Saintly Murders by C. L. Grace

Roger Atworth, Friar of the Order of the Sack, has recently died, but stories of miracles are already being attributed to him, and the Queen Mother, Dame Cecily of York, has asked the Church to look into his cannonization, with the idea of eventually turning him into a Saint.

Kathryn Swinbrooke, a female physician and solver of mysteries with her lodger and lover Colum Murtagh, has been assigned the post of Advocatus Diaboli, the Devil's advocate, in the comission looking into the life and death and supposed miracles surrounding the humble friar. Kathryn agrees, but before the council can meet, travels to meet an English spy with Colum, who they found has been murdered in the room where he was staying. However, the room was locked from the inside, so how was he done to death?

As Kathryn investigates the murder, she also sees that the death of Roger Atworth appears to have been murder, not a saintly passing into heaven. More, he was also Dame Cecily's confessor, and appears to have known information that could severely damage the reputation of both Dame Cecily and the Royal family were it to become known. It also appears that his death is somehow connected with the killing of Colum's spy in Dover, and that members of the Friar's Order have conspired to conceal the true nature of Roger Atworth's death so that Dame Cecily is not injured by what her confessor knew.

With another death inside the Friary and an infestation of rats plaguing the city that seem to have arisen out of nowhere, Kathryn must marshall all her wits to succeed in plumbing waters that are very deep, indeed. Not only could she die if she fails to find the truth, but she could draw down on herself the wrath of members of the royal family... and that could be just as deadly as murder. Meanwhile, her friend the Archbishop of Canterbury has ordered one of his investigators to find the true whereabouts of Kathryn's first husband, gone and presumed dead these many years. But the man offers Kathryn the choice of getting rid of him permanently should he still live. She refuses the offer, but the possibility still plagues her. Now that she is in love with Colum, she has a man who will not beat her, so what happens if her husband is still alive?

Saintly Murders shows how a medieval comission of Beatitude worked. The Devil's Advocate had to show how supposed miraculous acts and cures could have a secular and logical explanation. Kathryn, being a physician, is best at showing how cures which seem miraculous could be due to more mundane explanations, and Roger Atworth's non-decay is revealed to be a side-effect of arsenic poisoning, which he had been taking for a long time for a stomach condition.

Once again, C. L. Grace plunges us into a Medieval world which seems as real and immediate as the world we live in today, and drops bits of information that enlighten and inform us about the medieval world and mindset. I also particularly liked the dust jacket, which contains an image of the main character, and the body of Roger Atworth, surrounded by a border containing images of streaming rats and a skeleton, a common medieval theme.

Read this book not only for the mystery and the setting, but the writing of C. L. Grace. This book comes before "A Maze of Murders", but I read that one first, and so I blogged about them in the same order.

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