cover image Bone of Contention

Bone of Contention

Susanna Gregory. Minotaur Books, $23.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-312-16792-9

Prostitutes, violent friars and thieving scholars slog through the stinking streets of medieval Cambridge in Gregory's rather convoluted follow-up to An Unholy Alliance. In 1352, hostility is running high between town and gown as well as between rival colleges at the university when the body of a young scholar, James Kenzie, is found in a sewage-filled channel called the King's Ditch. Riots break out in the town as physician Matthew Bartholomew and University Provost Brother Michael, a Benedictine monk, begin to investigate Kenzie's murder. With bodies piling up as more people are murdered and others die in the continuing riots, a bewildering number of characters, motives and opportunities center on a distinctive ring with a blue-green stone. It was given to Kenzie by his girlfriend, Dominica, but was missing from his finger when his body was found; later, it turned up on a skeleton hand reputed to be the remains of a local martyr killed 25 years earlier. The investigation extends back 25 years to when the ring was originally given to Dominica's mother. Bartholomew and Michael are good company, both enlightened thinkers who don't believe in astrology or superstition. Their environment is vividly brought to life in all its misery: bad food, airless rooms and the ever-present threat of plague. But Gregory touches too many bases too casually as she tries to dramatize the intersection of religious, political and plain personal conflicts. (Nov.)