It is fairly obvious from my previous reviews of Gregory's novels that I consider her the finest medieval mystery author of her generation. Any Batholomew or Chaloner novel results in any current book being tossed aside as the latest literary mystery from the pen of the pseudonymal Gregory demands immediate attention. No other living author gets six stars from this reviewer; no other author quite such enthusiastic recommendations to friends and colleagues alike. The reason is that Gregory, aside from the prolific nature of her pen, each and every time creates mystery that is unfathomable. Multiple threads abound, some tied, some not. Victims are startling, murderers can be one or many. Politics and history walk hand in hand, the authenticity of Cambridge is carefully researched, the characters taken from real people, the action a plausible interpretation of actual events in fourteenth century England. At the heart of it all, two likeable characters. Senior Proctor Michael and his Corpse Examiner, Matthew Bartholomew make a sleuthing pair to rival Holmes and Watson at their finest. The spray of supporting Michaelhouse characters such as Rougham, Langelee, Agatha, Cynric, William et al. are a joy to read about.
Enough of the effusive praise. It is well merited by this author.
So..."The Killer of Pilgrims"...we have a misinformed and psychotic killer stealing signacula in an attempt to gain a place at God's table. Many readers will know of medieval pardoners through the bad press of Chaucer, and Gregory adds to this with the mendacious, grasping character of Fen and his two fallen nuns. As our collector of baubles grows more desperate so a killer of pilgrims is born, residing in Cambridge. New foul characters arrive in the form of the evil Emma de Colvyll whose grasp of terror and fear over the town gives her and her son-in-law, Heslarton, her daughter Alice and grand-daughter Odelina a nefarious vantage point. All has been quiet in Cambridge for too long and we open with the drowning of the unfortunate Jolye then the discovery of the taverner Drax stuffed behind a pile of bricks at Michaelhouse. The roof is being repaired by the distasteful Yffi and the storm clouds are gathering around the scholars and townpeople again. Unrest is being stirred deliberately by Principal Kendale and the scholars of Chestre Hostel, exacerbated by the camp-ball game that is called, ostensibly to start a riot. More deaths quickly follow: Alice, Poynton, Yffi, Gib. There is neither rhyme nor reason that Michael or Matthew can fathom. What with Matthew's problems being considered a warlock and the aggravation of the town's other three physicians - Gyseburne, Meryfield and Rougham - who are hellbent on finding a new means of lighting their way (which only results in spectacular explosions) it is no wonder the pair find themselves under pressure to solve the case before a riot ensues during the planned Carmelite lecture of Hornesby in the next few days. The subtle pressure of japes and tomfoolery between secular and spiritual is driving Cambridge to confrontation.
We conclude with a denouement amongst the rafters of the town hall that has Matthew falling as he finally understands who is behind it all. The town is purged of predjudice again; the petty rivalries between Hostels and Colleges that develop into deadly force with little fuse to note are abated until the next novel; the ridiculous nature of St Simon Stock's scapular is shown to be William's dirty habit; we are introduced to the violence of camp-ball; Michaelhouse finally gets another roof.
It is utterly glorious, to be honest.
Read it. You won't be disappointed.