cover image An Unholy Alliance

An Unholy Alliance

Susanna Gregory. St. Martin's Press, $23.95 (310pp) ISBN 978-0-312-14752-5

In mid-14th century Cambridge, still reeling in the aftermath of the Black Death, an uneasy town-gown relationship deteriorates with the murders of three prostitutes and armed attacks on merchants. But it is the mysterious death of a Dominican friar in the tower of St. Mary's Church, killed while rifling the Cambridge University chest, iron-bound repository of University secrets and valuables, that pulls physician Matthew Bartholomew and Benedictine Brother Michael unwillingly into the fray. Ordered to solve the mystery by Chancellor Richard de Wetherset, Bartholomew discovers a poisoned blade in the chest's lock. Then Frances de Belem, to whom Bartholomew had nearly been betrothed as a child and who was now a shamefully pregnant longtime widow, is murdered in the same manner as the prostitutes. Rumors of witchcraft and covens meeting in the churches closed by the ravages of the plague combine with charges of corruption on the part of the unpopular sheriff to further complicate the issues. Throughout, Bartholomew attempts to teach the medicine he learned from an Arab physician in Paris to students who consider his notions heretical. The pseudonymous Gregory produces a lively and intelligent tale set vividly in turbulent medieval England. (Dec.)