Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mystery Book Review: Chambers of Death by Priscilla Royal

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Chambers of Death by Priscilla Royal. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Chambers of Death by Priscilla Royal

A Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-640-9 (1590586409)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-640-2 (9781590586402)
Publication Date: August 2009
List Price: $24.95

Review: Chambers of Death is the 6th mystery in this series by Priscilla Royal, set in medieval England and featuring Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal.

It is the end of autumn on a blistery, icy raining day as Prioress Eleanor, administrator of Tyndal Priory, a Fontevraudine nunnery, returns from an ill-advised journey concerning boundary disputes and contracts. Together, with her traveling companion, Brother Thomas, a monk at Tyndal, and a fifteen-year-old novice, Mariota, Prioress Eleanor seeks a refuge from the weather in that Mariota has suddenly turned quite ill. She is feverish and her breathing is ragged and labored. They are fortunate to find lodging at the manor of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln. The members of the household are gracious and show great warmth to their visitors, carrying Mariota into a room with a bed near the fire to hasten her recovery, and giving Eleanor clean and dry clothes. The good will of some of the members of the family did not last long, however. Filled with anger, jealousy and lust, some remarked that the Devil with all his ghosts and demons were residing in the manor. Though Eleanor is desirous of moving on, Mariota’s fever does not break on the first day, and the visitors are invited to stay on until she is well. On the second night of their stay, a cry of “murder” is heard throughout the manor. Tobye, the stable groom is found dead, his throat slashed. Without hesitation, the local sheriff decides the deed was done by another servant, so immediately arrests the Hilda the cook, who had been known to look at Tobye in lustful ways. He is going to take her off to hang her.

Eleanor, although she had no idea who might have killed Tobye or why, was sure it was not Hilda. She knows she is a guest and should not become involved, but this is not her nature. Eleanor forces herself to confront the question of why she had gotten involved in this matter of murder. This was not priory land. The king’s law ruled here. After her successes in similar affairs, has she grown conceited? If true, she must cease her involvement and confess her overindulgent arrogance. She fears, however that, the evil in this place of refuge is more sinister than she had imagined. And then two more deaths occur, one which appears to be a suicide and another clearly murder. Who will the sheriff suspect now, and can Eleanor help identify the murderer?

The real strength of this series is in the character of Prioress Eleanor. She is truly and interesting and captivating person. Although she sees the sins of those who come to her for blessings, she recognizes that she, too, is a sinner. The other characters here are equally appealing, well considered and drawn. The plot in Chambers of Death is especially strong, the setting providing an appropriate atmospheric gloom over "whodunit" and why. This series continues to improve with each successive outing of the Prioress, and is highly recommended.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of The Betz Review for contributing her review of Chambers of Death and to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): When one of her company falls ill on a return journey to Tyndal, Prioress Eleanor accepts lodging at a nearby manor. Master Stevyns' wife is having an affair with the groom while a local widow acts more the lady of the manor than the lady herself. His eldest son and spouse are obsessed with sin and heaven while his youngest son, bound for the Church, unexpectedly returns with more interest in lute playing than the priesthood. It is no surprise when someone's throat is cut, but the sheriff does all he can to avoid offending the family rather than seeking the real killer. When he arrests a servant, she herself is stabbed before she can either prove innocence or be taken off for hanging. Will Eleanor discover the dark secrets that have led to this string of killings before the murderer strikes again?

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