Saturday, February 25, 2023

Dark Waters Rising reveals a complex web of mysteries in atmospheric 14th-century Yorkshire

In Clark’s twelfth and last mystery in the Hildegard of Meaux series, set in 1394 Yorkshire, tensions are nigh at breaking point.

The novices at Swyne Priory, where Hildegard is a Cistercian nun, are unhappy, and Hildegard can’t settle them down. A young royal minstrel, Master Leonin, appears on the convent’s doorstep in a terrible state, alleging his life is threatened—and he refuses to say much more. Richard II has just lost his beloved queen, and the nuns worry his barons are agitating again. Even more troublesome is the unnatural death of a lay sister.

Events in the natural world mirror the turmoil within: the rain is incessant, and the eccentric, bookish Sister Josiana predicts the Humber will break its banks, flooding the land. The priory is on high ground, but can they prepare in time, and will Hildegard solve the crimes?

It feels odd to describe a medieval mystery involving nuns as frenetic, but there’s so much physical movement that the plot gets muddled at times. Hildegard spends considerable time on the road, riding to and fro among Swyne, the monastery at Meaux, and nearby Haltemprice Priory during her investigations.

The Prioress suggests she wants Hildegard to succeed her, but it’s unclear why, since Hildegard is rarely there; plus, there are unresolved romantic tensions between her and Hubert, lord abbot at Meaux. The story and characters hold interest, though, and it comes through clearly that with limited options for women, many found homes in convents regardless of vocation (or willingness).

The sense of place is superb and appropriately eerie, with a full moon overhead as waters begin rising. Superstitions are rife, and many folks “trust portents more than facts,” but when Josiana’s measurements prove accurate—not really a spoiler—it’s a triumphant moment for all women of science.

Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark was published in 2022 by Severn House, and I'd reviewed it initially for the Historical Novels Review. Unlike many readers, I don't mind beginning a series in the middle if the setting and storyline intrigue me, or at the end in this case, and this one stands alone well enough. Although Hildegard's sleuthing has wrapped up, Clark is continuing to explore medieval crime through her Brother Chandler mysteries.

1 comment:

  1. Mystica Varathapalan11:17 PM

    Never heard of this story before but I do like the nuns as investigators