Matt and Michael are back in Susanna Gregory’s twenty-second mystery. This time “It is a good time for tomb-makers” as a nefarious crowd of 14th century characters wend their way into Cambridge to disrupt both the University and the town, to the degree that Sheriff Tulyet happily coerces Michael with: “’The University and the town working together to thwart criminals. Are you sure you would not rather be a chancellor than a bishop, Brother? Cambridge needs you.’”
The Prologue opens in a manner that is slightly different from Gregory’s norm: yes, someone dies – in this case Sir John Dallingridge – but we trot alongside the impending corpse who realises he is being slowly poisoned and is trying to deduce who has done the deed in order to ensure his legacy isn’t bequeathed to them. By his deathbed side is Sir John Moleyns, the latter’s wife, Egidia, and lawyer, Inge, along with his medicus Barber Cook and some family members. As he dies, there is also a troubling assessment of those who might create his splendid tomb.
Suffice it to say, a few months later this lot have pitched up in Cambridge. Sir Moleyns is there as part of a ‘prison move’ having been found guilty of various upper class crimes against the medieval peasantry of England. Trouble is, he gets off to a bad start:
“’Tulyet will be sorry he offended me,’ he said softly. ‘And so will his town.’”
It is not a spoiler to reveal the opening scene is one that brings about the death of Chancellor Tynkell. He engages in a satanic struggle above St Mary’s Church (reminiscent of a scene from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) during a ferocious storm that it witnessed by everyone before being expertly dispatched. No murderer is found and everyone thinks ‘Satan’ flew away towards Barnwell Fields. It is a superstitious belief that confounds and exasperates Michael and Matt as so many of these mysteries have done. Michael has his own good news, thinking he is about to be invested as a bishop but is reined in by the author:
“Poor Tynkell. I cannot accept a bishopric as long as his killer is at large, so I hope you will agree to help me. After all, my entire future is at stake here.’ When put like that, Bartholomew saw he would have no choice but to oblige.”
Oblige he does.
The motley crew of suspects includes Will Kolvyle, Michaelhouse’s newest Fellow, Thomas Hopeman, “an unattractive individual with a low forehead and darkly glittering eyes”, Lyng – the previous three-time Chancellor, Richard de Whittlesey – once master of Peterhouse now the envoy of the Bishop of Rochester, Frisby, the perpetually drunk vicar, and Nicholas, Tulyet’s secretary and lover of Thelnatham…amongst the usual Cambridge crew. In addition there is the feud between the marble tomb effigy sculptors headed by Petit and his team who includes Reames, Peres and Lucas with the tomb brasses memorial makers led by Lakenham. Someone is stealing a lot of funerary embellishments and accusations amongst these grave makers are rife leading to dark deeds.
The resulting scramble to replace Tynkell means five candidates come to the fore: Godrich, Lyng, Thelnatham, Hopeman, and Suttone. As Gregory humorously observes: “’I consider brains to be an important quality in a Chancellor.’ They are overrated,’ said William. ‘Most officials manage perfectly well without them.’” Still, the impending election is the catalyst for a string of murders which lead Matt to realise that “We have two killers here, not one.” before unhappily concluding at the barn-storming denouement that he “was aware of a creeping sense of defeat as he recalled all the ‘clues’ that had led him astray.”
This is a set of murders with differing motives; an enigma where a clever killer is sowing all kinds of seeds of misinformation, where “’People happily kill where large amounts of money are concerned.’” and the ultimate conclusion is that “Monuments might look pretty in a church, but between you and me, they are more trouble than they are worth.” Chuck in the impending return of Matt’s love, Mathilde – for whom he is now unsure of his feelings – and you’ve got another brilliantly convoluted book from Susanna Gregory.
Oh…and one tiny error (seen before in the Kindle version of Gregory) – in the Epilogue we get “just deserts”, rather than desserts. So very nearly made it to the end without a typo. Ho hum.
Read this. It’s worth it.