The serenity of Hawkenlye Abbey has been disturbed by the arrival of a new nun and her two young sisters. Recently orphaned, Alba has had to leave her convent at Ely to take her grieving sisters far away from the scene of their sorrow. However Abbess Helewise cannot quite believe in the selflessness of this gesture; Sister Alba is, everyone agrees, a mean-spirited and turbulent presence.
The Abbess's anxieties grow when her old friend Josse d'Acquin is brought to Hawkenlye, half dead from blood poisoning. Then a body is discovered. And one of the sisters goes missing. In order to discover what really lies behind Alba's flight to Hawkenlye, Helewise sets off to visit Ely. She uncovers not only a clever network of lies, but also, hidden in a burnt-out cottage, the horrific remains of a dead man. . .