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Chambers of Death, A Medieval Mystery by Priscilla Royal

This is Priscilla Royal’s sixth novel about the medieval period. I believe all, or most, tell the story of Prioress Eleanor, the daughter of a baron who chooses the veil rather than marry a man she does not love. I need to go back and review others of Royal’s books because I have only read, perhaps, one other in the series and I am enjoying getting to know Prioress Eleanor.

I also have some things in common with author, Priscilla Royal. She studied medieval literature at San Francisco State University. I studied it and medieval history at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, so I know enough to recognize that Priscilla Royal has woven an authentic tale with characters that could have been drawn from real life who have thought processes and opinions that are representative of the end of the thirteenth century.

In this tale Prioress Eleanor, her trusty monk, Brother Thomas, and a young novice are traveling home to the Tyndal Priory when the girl falls ill and the group stops at a manor house occupied by a steward named Master Stevyn to care for the girl. We get to know his family and servants very well in this tightly crafted mystery, and until very near the end of the book, at least I was as baffled as Prioress Eleanor as to who killed the groom and several other characters. I figured it out maybe a chapter before the killer was revealed.

The groom is knifed to death in the stable shortly after Prioress Eleanor and her entourage arrive. The local sheriff, Sir Reimund, is content to arrest the first convienent low-born suspect, but the Prioress and her monk are reasonably certain the accused cook is not the culprit. They are hard pressed, however, to find any member of the family or servants who had means, method and opportunity for each of the attacks that occur.

I found this mystery very absorbing, but then, I like the medieval period of history and understand it pretty well. Newbies to medieval history and literature might want to read the author’s notes at the end of the book before starting in. This will place the book in concise historical context and give the reader a little understanding about legalities of the time and the cultural context.

The book is well researched. Royal puts the kinds of thoughts and actions that would have been common in that day into the appropriate character, so each of several main characters are complete three-dimensional packages that we can get to know, understand and judge on their own terms. The realistic descriptions and the characterizations make this book an exceptional and a very worthwhile read.

“Chambers of Death” will be enjoyed by mystery lovers who like the medieval setting and characters, and by fans of Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas of Tyndal Priory.

Liz Nichols

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