1370. Oswald de Lacy was not always Lord of the Manor, or even meant to be. The third son, he was sent off to become a novice monk. Now, with winter closing in on Somershill, his wife flirting with their houseguest, his sister sniping from the sidelines and his mother still ruling his life even from her deathbed, Oswald is forced to confront the secret that has haunted him ever since those days in the monastery.
1349. Sent to gather herbs in the forest by his tutor, Brother Peter, 18-year-old Oswald encounters a terrified girl, who runs into the swollen river and drowns. In her village, he discovers that she is only one of many poor young women who have disappeared, with no-one in authority caring enough to investigate.
Convinced the girls are dead, Oswald turns to the village women for help in finding the murderer – in particular to the beautiful Maud Woodstock, who provokes feelings in Oswald that no monk should entertain.
Soon, however, another killer stalks the land. Plague has come and the monastery is locked against it. Brother Peter insists that Oswald should forget his quest. But Oswald will not stop until he has discovered the shocking truth, which will echo down the years to a letter, clutched in his dying mother’s hand.
1361. The Plague has returned to England – just thirteen years after the devastation of the Black Death. Knowing that the only way to survive plague is to keep out of its reach, Oswald de Lacy and his family flee to a remote castle on the edges of the Kent marshes.
The rules are clear: once the de Lacys and other guests are safe inside, the portcullis will be lowered and no-one allowed to enter or leave the castle until the contagion has passed.
And then a murderer strikes.
No longer a sanctuary, the castle becomes a prison. If they leave, they risk plague. If they stay, they are at the mercy of a killer – somebody in their midst. With word of his skills as an investigator preceding him, it falls to Oswald to unmask the killer, Host, guest, servant – everyone is a suspect in this closed community of poisonous relationships, family secrets and premeditated deceit. And nobody is safe – as their windswept place of safety fast becomes a charnel house.
It’s 1358 and Oswald de Lacy, Lord Somershill, is in Venice awaiting a pilgrim galley to the Holy Land. While the city is under siege from the Hungarians, Oswald lodges with an English merchant and soon comes under the spell of this decadent and dazzling island state that sits on the edge of Europe, where East meets West.
But Oswald has secrets. He is running away from something in England – a shadow that still haunts him, no matter how much he consoles himself with the delights of Venice. When he finds a dead man on the night of the carnival, he is dragged into a murder investigation that takes him deep into the intrigues of this mysterious, paranoid city.
From the dungeons of the Doge’s palace to the convent-brothel of Santa Lucia, Oswald must search for a murderer in this bewildering maze of alleys and canals. When he comes up against the feared Signori di Notte, the secret police of Venice, Oswald learns that he is not the only one with something to hide. Everybody is watching somebody else, and nobody in Venice is what he or she seems.
“A brilliant addition to the Somershill Manor novels.” Booklist Magazine
SD Sykes “again blends a detailed immersion in the time period with a clever mystery plot line.”
Oswald de Lacy is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. The Plague changed many things, and just as it took away his father and brothers, so it has taken many of his villagers and servants. Oswald was recalled from the monastery were he expected to spend his life. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more – something the King himself has forbidden.
Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear.
Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumour, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters.
From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the crime-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a dangerous woman, Oswald’s investigation is full of jeopardy, dark intrigue and shocking revelations.
‘Trouble, and its attendant duties, confront the reluctant young lord on nearly every page of this eventful, engrossing, informative mystery set in mid-14th century Kent.’
The Wall Street Journal
‘A disturbingly credible view of the devastating pandemic that wiped out half the population of England in the 14th century.’
The New York Times
‘Comparisons to the master of historical crime, C.J Sansom, are inevitable and, in this case, justified.’
Oswald de Lacy is trying to organize a murder investigation.
Despatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent home again at eighteen when his father and two older brothers are killed by the Black Death, Oswald was never meant to be Lord of Somershill Manor, or to face this kind of responsibility.
When he comes home, the years of pestilence and neglect have altered the estate dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants. Yet some things never change. Oswald's mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried.
Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the vicious murder of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was the victim of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it - by finding the real murderer - is quite a different matter.
Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife. He is close to losing all power and respect.
And then the body of another girl is found.
“There’s a sharpness to Sykes’s writing that suggests a medieval Raymond Chandler at work.”