Adelia Aguilar is a doctor, trained in Sicily, but unfortunately in England during the reign of King Henry II, she has to pretend that her companion, the mysterious eunuch Mansur is the physician, and she his assistant, for fear of being condemned as a witch. She longs to return to her native Sicily, but the King insists on keeping her in England as a special investigator. She also feels deep love for Rowley, but as he has recently been made Bishop of St Albans, in public their feelings for each other must be kept in check and she knows she can never have a permanent future with him.
Then Adelia is asked to accompany Joanna Plantagent, the King’s daughter, who is to wed the King of Sicily. On the way, random deaths occur within the party, and all seem to be connected to Adelia in some way; an argument she had with them, or imagined curses, increasing the mistrust of her and her companion.
Adelia’s friends, who already suspected that someone was out to disgrace and kill her, rally round to protect her, but it is obvious that it is a member of the princess’s retinue who is causing the chaos, and Adelia must find out who it is - and quickly.
The tension builds nicely as Adelia finds herself in one dire situation after another, aided and occasionally abetted by her friends. The Plantagenet era is interesting enough as a backdrop, with the pomp and circumstance, bias and racism that went with it.
I’m sure that most, if not all, crime fiction readers are amateur sleuths, and this detective story gives you a large cast of potential suspects - one is obvious from early on, and then you dismiss him as a possibility because he was just too obvious. (Such is the curse of reading too many crime novels and/or TV crime series) The clues to the reader as to his or her identity is given as asides, prayers, by one nicknamed Scarry, who is out for revenge as Adelia had a hand in his fellow assassin’s death.
Unfortunately, the amateur detective will not deduce who the killer is by detective work. The perpetrator is random, his revelation sudden, and post mortem. This makes a pretty absorbing novel rather disappointing, let down by the sudden ending.
All the same; for those who like crime in a historical context, this is an enjoyable and easy read.