Minotaur, 2009 (2009)
Reviewed by Tim Davis
riting in the superb tradition of Ellis Peters and Sharan Newman, British author Cassandra Clark offers readers
, a tautly plotted debut novel in a projected series that is set in England's turbulent 14th century.
he action begins with Cistercian nun Hildegard traveling on a special journey. First, daring to be caught in the middle of disputes between rival popes, she must deliver a secret document from Rome to the Archbishop of York. Then, in spite of difficulties but hoping to win permission to establish her own priory, Hildegard travels on to meet with Abbot Hubert de Courcy at Meaux.
owever, on her approach to Meaux, Hildegard makes a horrific discovery. Five eviscerated bodies hang from a makeshift gibbet in the forest. Near those bodies, the mutilated and murdered body of a young squire is hidden in the brush. A clue to what happened to the young squire is enclosed in a tiny glass phial that Hildegard finds in the squire's hand.
hen, shaken but not deterred from her important mission to Meaux, Hildegard arrives at Meaux where she meets with the abbot and is later reunited with an old friend, Lord Roger de Hutton.
owever, as if the six previously found bodies weren't enough to completely unnerve the Cistercian nun, what happens next is almost more than Hildegard can bear. An attempted murder at Lord Roger's banquet means that Hildegard will have to move quickly and shrewdly in order to protect herself and others from further dangers. Nevertheless, dangers (and murder) will not be easily prevented.
hrough a vivid rendering of the often horrific but always fascinating sights, sounds, and smells of 14th century England (often reminding this reader of a sublimely grotesque and beautiful Hieronymus Bosch painting), Cassandra Clark's
moves on to become a magnificent mystery in which adroitly crafted characterizations are involved in the always dangerous intersections of religion, politics, power, and personalities. Fans of medieval mysteries will not want to miss this one.
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