How is it that Magdalene la Batarde has been able to set up her high-class brothel in the Old Priory Guesthouse, which is still owned by St. Mary Overy Church? Magdalene doesn't run a common whorehouse, and her women are far from usual. She employs simple-minded Ella, blind Sabina, and mute Letice. The cook and housekeeper, Dulcie, can barely hear. For a high price, a gentleman can spend an enjoyable evening and know his secrets will be kept.
One night in the spring of 1139, a messenger from the pope comes to the guesthouse gate and asks for lodging. Only hours after the man has been entertained by Sabina, a body is found on the steps of the church, and the women are accused of the murder. They know they will hang because who would believe the word of a whore over that of a church official?
Sir Bellamy of Itchen, a bishop's knight is sent to Soutwark (outside of London) to investigate the murder. When he visits the Old Priory Guesthouse to search for clues, he is surprised at what he finds and is immediately drawn to the beautiful Magdalene. As they work together to find the murderer, they learn that this crime is more than a simple case of a robbery gone wrong. Furthermore, the messenger may have carried papers important both to the church of St. Overy and to Stephen in his fight with Maud for the English crown.
In A Mortal Bane, Gellis draws us into the world of medieval England, and we get a peek at the politics of the early church. Greed, murder, overzealous piety, politics, prejudice, and simple jealousy must all be sorted out before the murderer can be found. All the while we wonder, along with Bellamy, about Magdalene's past and her relationship with her powerful benefactor.
I highly recommend this first in the series mystery, and I will absolutely be reading the rest. If you like Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael series, you'll like this too. The characters are complex, the dialogue is believable, and the action is just right.
I listened to this unabridged audiobook, which was read by Nadia May. May did an excellent job differentiating among the characters, and her accents and inflections enhanced the book.
Audio published by Blackstone Audiobooks, 2002
Challenge: 25 Books