Susanna Gregory‘s Brother Matthew Bartholomew is a favourite of mine as each book, so far at least, is an extremely comfortable read. There are more than 20 books in the series and I’m finally almost caught up. It will be strange to sit and wait for a new book to come out instead of reading a half dozen or so a year.
In The Lost Abbot, both Brother Matthew and his friend, Brother Michael, senior proctor of the university at Oxford, find out they aren’t as good at reading characters as they thought they were. Commissioned by their bishop to find Abbot Robert of Peterborough, who has disappeared and is thought by many to be dead, the pair arrive at the small town in the company of four other representatives from Michaelhouse: Langelee, a former soldier and spy who is master of Michaelhouse, Clippesby (a brother who mostly feigns madness but does have an illness that causes him confusion at times — the others try to pass him off as a saint), Father William (who avoids cleanliness as if it were a disease), and Cynric, Brother Matthew’s bookbearer. They have hardly arrived when they are faced with what seems to be a second murder, as well as being made painfully aware of strong divisions between the two hospitals of the church, the grave of a notorious thief and murderer being worshiped for a fee, imminent violence between church and townsfolk, obedientiaries vying for the still warm position of abbot, and a fomenting rebellion of the poor against the wealthy, and against one rich merchant in particular.
Both church and merchant have hired mercenaries for security and it is desolate country beset by robbers between Peterborough and the nearby lands of the the wealthy goldsmith where Abbot Robert, along with a physician named Pyke, was heading when both disappeared. As Michael and Matthew (acting as corpse examiner) set about their task to discover the truth of what happened to Robert and Pyke, they find few people who liked the abbot and many who would be happy to have been the one to dispatch him to the next world. Rumours about the thief, de Oxforde, leaving behind a great treasure, more deaths, and an attempted poisoning of Matthew, all conspire to cloud the issue of the disappearance of the abbot further, while the mercenaries are more threatening than protective of the visitors.
Before Michael and Matthew uncover a conspiracy most unbecoming of high church officials, they almost lose their lives, and Cynric becomes most disappointed in the rebel supposedly trying to ease the plight of the poor by means of the redistribution of wealth. Gregory’s plot, as usual, has many twists and surprises both for the characters as well as her readers, and gives us a fascinating look at life in medieval times. A map of Peterborough in the 1350s at the front of the book helps give body to the landscape of the events, a prologue sets the stage for the key to de Oxforde’s treasure, and for a while, it seems that Michael’s ambition my lead him away from Oxford to become the replacement abbot of Peterborough. Yet another delicious mystery by Susanna Gregory. • • • • •
It’s very easy to participate in my Mystery Monday meme. Just post a review of your latest mystery read on your own site, and then a comment on my post with a link to yours. Simplicity itself! I look forward to learning about more great mysteries to add to my ever-growing list of To Be Read.