The second Cadfael novel. A year has passed. In 1138 Shrewsbury is paying a heavy price for siding more with Empress Maud than King Stephen as the two battle for the throne. Hitherto Stephen's leniency has been misinterpreted as weakness. No misunderstanding this time - all 94 captured from the castle are promptly hanged.
The Abbey insists due respect be paid to the dead, Cadfael delegated to supervise. Suddenly a puzzle. 95 bodies? Shockingly the war has been used as a cover for murder. Stephen is outraged. Cadfael vows to track down the culprit. With the town in such turmoil, this is quite a task....
Cadfael himself is one of literature's happiest creations - tending herbs at the Abbey a far cry from his decades as soldier and ship captain (complete with romantic interludes). Very much of the world, he is no fool - an acute observer who sees things as they truly are.
Ellis Peters clearly has a great regard for the period, it portrayed with a wealth of detail that fascinates. As in the first novel, she skilfully interweaves two love stories and a killing that intrigues. Especially well handled is the cat and mouse game played by Cadfael and his prime suspect - its outcome surprising. The hard to please may accuse her of rose-coloured spectacles, the times perhaps a little idealized. They may declare the last minute witness a cliche, the climax melodramatic.
Most, however, will savour an exceptionally enjoyable read, its end immensely satisfying.