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Elegy to Murder
May 1283. The roads near Tyndal Priory are filled with joyful pilgrims, but not all is happy in the village and priory. Signy, the innkeeper, is quarreling with her suddenly rebellious foster son. Gytha, Crowner Ralf’s wife, is in failing health, but her hisband is hunting smugglers on the remote East Anglian coast. Brother Thomas remains aloof and depressed after the events in the last book. But Prioress Eleanor cannot offer sympathy or guidance because a pilgrim is murdered near her priory walls. Although she has no authority to investigate, she knows the killer could vanish into the crowds before the crowner can return. Will she fail to catch the murderer? Will this be the first time she cannot bring a killer to justice?
This well-researched 16th installment in the Medieval Mysteries series follows the murder of a wool merchant in a village near Tyndal Priory. Travelers, returning from a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Walstan, flood the town seeking a place to stay before their journeys home. After a series of violent events—the brutal beating of a carpenter, the murder of a merchant from Norwich—and with the King’s Crowner away catching smugglers, Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas begin an investigation with the help of Nute, the innkeeper’s foster son. Meanwhile, the residents of the priory struggle to understand their relationships with God, as they explore the morality of homosexuality, birth control, and calculated dishonesty.

This book stands alone and works well as a one-off, even though the characters are part of a much larger series. Certain plotlines (Brother Thomas’s homosexuality, Prioress’s Eleanor’s move to Tyndal) are mentioned in this installment but are not fully explored; those seeking in-depth backstories may want to start at the series’ beginning. In the first half of this volume, well-developed character studies of village residents get almost as much focus as the mystery, with complex characterization. The second half is lean and quick-moving, more focused on the murder.

The novel’s real triumph is Royal’s steadfast commitment to remaining true to period while crafting dialogue and prose that feel at home in both the 21st century and the 13th. The characters have modern sensibilities, but never don’t seem out of place in the society in which they live. History buffs will appreciate the attention to detail. Readers who are less familiar with medieval history may want to familiarize themselves with some of the basic customs of the time, but the book includes enough context to remain enjoyable for those who are new to the genre. This well-balanced novel, with its blend of fact, fiction, and thrills, will pique readers’ interest in the village and its denizens.

Takeaway: This period thriller will appeal to medieval history buffs and those who like their murder mysteries set in a well-developed context.

Great for fans of: Bernard Knight’s Crowner John series, Ellis Peters’s A Morbid Taste for Bones.

Production grades
Cover: B-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A-