Roger the Chapman has just returned home from a trip in which he worked for his patron, the Duke of Gloucester, as well as doing his usual job of being a wandering merchant, and he's heading home to his wife and children, eager to see their faces again, when he first hears of the death of King Edward IV.
Because the Prince of Wales is too young to ascend to the throne himself, on his behalf, the forces of the Queen and Gloucester are marshaling, each eager to be the next King's advisors until he comes of age. However, the Queen's relatives are hostile to the forces of Gloucester, and the maneuvering between the two is likely to be protracted and severe. After hearing the news, and taking a quick pint of ale and questioning the messenger, Roger returns to his home in Somerset... only to find it deserted.
From his neighbor, he learns that a woman came to see his wife, along with a young child, and that his wife left soon after, leaving Roger's daughter from a previous marriage with his former mother-in-law. Roger, who has been unfaithful to his wife while he was away, is afraid, but realizes that the woman he was with could not have returned in time to have a child of such an age after being with him, and is only somewhat reassured.
He hurries quickly to his former mother-in-law's house where he learns that the woman was Judith Gerrish, a woman he shared a single night with some years ago, but that the child, appearing to be the age it was, could not have been his, even if she claimed it was. But his wife, who was told that the child was his, was horrified by his betrayal and took herself to the home of some relatives of hers in London, the Godslove family.
Taking himself and his daughter to London, Roger finds he has already been forgiven for the incident that sent his wife there, and instead, she asks him to aid her hosts, the Godsloves. The Godslove family consists of three sisters, Clemency, Sybilla and Celia (who is actually a half-sister) and their brother Oswald, a solicitor. Also in the house is Arbella Rokeswood, their housemaid, who is deeply in love with Oswald, but because he and his siblings are so close, he would never marry her, nor none of the others marry out of the family.
There was a fourth sister, Charity, but she died after eating some suspicious mushrooms, and another half-brother, Martin, owned a tavern but was killed in a brawl. At first, the siblings believed that the deaths in the family were simple mischance or bad luck, but when Sybilla became ill so suddenly after Charity died, they started to believe that someone had it in for their family and wants them dead.
Roger asks if perhaps it was someone that Oswald defended in court, thinking he didn't do his best and is persecuting him for some reason. But Oswald, who doesn't appear to be the nicest man, and who is short and quarrelsome with everyone, refuses to accept or admit that any of his clients could want to kill him. Instead, he places the blame on one of two people. The first is an ex-suitor of Celia's, a physician named Roderick Jeavons. He and Celia were once very close, but once she refused to marry him, his relations with the rest of the family soured, but he is still cordial with Celia. The second is a silver merchant named Adrian Jollifant, who once owned the house that the Godsloves live in. He sold it to another, and that man sold it to the Godsloves, but Jollifant believes he was cheated out of the house and wants it back.
Roger doesn't like Oswald Godslove, but the longer he stays in the house with Adela, the more he is inclined to believe that someone is out to kill one or more of the Godsloves. However, the King is dead, and his son, too young to rule on his own, must be guided by someone, and both Roger's benefactor, The Duke of Gloucester and the relatives of the Queen, are fighting over who it is to be. As Roger seeks to find out who might have it in for the Godsloves, he tries to keep watch on the unfolding events involving his patron. But when Celia Godslove is kidnapped from her home, can Roger find out who has her and return her to the bosom of her family before she can be killed, and find out who is trying to kill off the Godsloves?
This was a very twisting mystery, and three braids run through the book. One is the Godslove Mystery, the second is that of the relationship between Roger and his wife, and the third is the situation with the King. At their heart, though, they are all about family and relationships. I will have to admit that this solution was one I didn't see coming at the end, and the story it told was rather nasty and twisted as well.
Unfortunately, I had a hard time keeping my mind on what was going on in the book. We're not allowed to linger too long on any one thread before another comes up to distract us, and there are loads of lesser mysteries that pop up along the way, from who stole the ring that Roger gave to his wife to what really happened to Adrian Jollifant's father, all of which are solved by Roger as he tries to solve the main mystery.
Again, the solution to the mystery rather shocked me. I was sort of aware that situations like this had existed in Medieval times, but what actually happened? Well, suffice to say I didn't see that coming in a million years. Not that the slavery aspect hasn't shown up in Kate Sedley stories before- one of the stories was about young boys being stolen from England, given herbs to inhibit their growth, and then sold into slavery in Italy as miniature court jesters and dwarves, since they were so much in demand in Italy. This is still a good mystery, and I did enjoy it, especially the ending, but occasionally reading about the Godsloves was hard, since Oswald was such a jerk and his sisters fawned and doted on him so much it made me want to gag. Recommended.