I’ve been reading some excellent historical murder mysteries recently, so this offering on Netgalley caught my eye. As usual, I didn’t research it properly before requesting it. So I was slightly surprised to discover it was Book 11 of a long-running series. Oh well – it’s been a while since I crashed midway into a series with such style!
BLURB: February, 1390. The Church seethes with rebellion. Newly elected Pope Boniface faces a challenger: the anti-pope Clement, who sows discord from his power base in France.
The quarrel threatens the very survival of the Cistercian Order. So when suspicions grow that distant Beaulieu Abbey may turn traitor, Hildegard’s prioress summons her with a mission she can’t refuse: travel to the isolated royal abbey and spy out their true allegiance. The public reason for Hildegard’s trip is more prosaic. A young Cornish heiress, promised in marriage to the son of local aristocrat Sir William, needs escorting to her new home. It’s not often Hildegard joins a betrothal party, and she’s looking forward to meeting the girl.
But little does Hildegard know, death and danger wait at Beaulieu – and even the protection of her travelling companions, the monks militant Brother Gregory and Brother Egbert, may not be enough to keep her safe from harm . . .
REVIEW: As luck would have it, I know this part of the world rather well. In another life, we owned a yacht and Beaulieu River was a favourite destination when cruising up and down The Solent. So I was especially keen to read this murder mystery set in this beautiful, atmospheric part of the world.
Hildegard is a sympathetic protagonist, who is clearly intelligent and courageous. I also liked the fact that she is a widow with grown children that brought a steadiness and experience she demonstrated throughout. It makes a nice change to have a female protagonist who is a bit older and past her physical prime. However, this murder mystery is clearly action led, despite being told from the viewpoint of a single protagonist. There are so many twists and turns and so much going on that at times Hildegard’s thoughts and reactions – other than those about the mystery – aren’t apparent, so by the end of the book I didn’t know her as well as I wanted. While she is in some very dangerous situations. I didn’t ever get the sense of her real fear, or her ongoing dialogue with God, which would have been the case in those days.
However, Clark’s depiction of the surroundings, infrastructure and all the topographical features are spot on. Once I realised the limits of the characterisation, I was perfectly happy to relax into the story and appreciate the plotting, which was very well done. Though three- quarters in, I was a bit dismayed to have worked out exactly what was going on – until the denouement when I realised that I was completely wrong. And that is always the mark of a cracking good plot. Checking back, I realised that Clark has not cheated her reader in any way while achieving such a volte-face, which is the mark of an experienced, skilled writer.
All in all, this whodunnit is a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted read. Though I would have preferred more insight into the character, it certainly wasn’t a dealbreaker and I would happily go on to read more books in this entertaining series. While I obtained an arc of Murder at Beaulieu Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.