It is May of 1272, and Prioress Eleanor of Tyndale, recovering from a near-fatal winter fever, journeys to Amesbury Priory to visit her aunt in time for the Feast of Saint Melor. Although Eleanor hopes to regain her strength in the midst of pleasant childhood memories, Death reveals a most troublesome fondness for her company.
A ghost now haunts Amesbury. And when a man is decapitated near the river where the grim figure walks, Sister Beatrice, Eleanorís aunt and acting prioress of Amesbury, shows an uncharacteristic hesitancy about taking charge of any investigation.
As others apparently fall victim to the vengeful ghost, Eleanor struggles to put a human face on the restless spirit, and Brother Thomas, pursuing a secret mission for the Church connected with the Prioryís famous Psaltery, finds that his own demons have unexpectedly taken on a very human form...
Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal is recuperating from a life-threatening illness at the start of Royal's riveting fourth medieval mystery (after 2006's Sorrow Without End), but she brightens at an assignment from her aunt Beatrice, director of novices at Amesbury Priory, who asks her to investigate a ghost people claim has begun haunting Amesbury. When a local man is found beheaded, Eleanor realizes she's dealing with a human killer, not an otherworldly spirit. Meanwhile, a thief may be trying to steal a valuable illuminated manuscript from the priory. In a fascinating subplot, a handsome young monk, Thomas, hunts down the manuscript thief. Though committed to celibacy, 22-year-old Eleanor develops quite a crush on Thomas, who struggles with homosexual longings. The author subtly treats the erotic charge surrounding Eleanor and Thomas while shedding light on 13th-century understandings of sexuality. Royal draws together the murder, the manuscript and the ghost in an unexpected conclusion.