22 08 2011

Matthew Bartholomew, the Cambridge physician, and his friend Brother Michael go to Lincoln, where the friar is to be inducted as a canon of the cathedral. Matthew has his own agenda as he is also still in search of his great love, Matilde, who left Cambridge one night several years earlier (after he had failed – again! – to ask her to marry him) and has not been seen since. Now he has word that she has been seen in Lincoln, that she was in fact at one point betrothed to someone in Lincoln – and that is the real reason he makes the very friendly gesture of accompanying Brother Michael to Lincoln in the freezing December weather.

Matilde remains as elusive as ever, but Lincoln is a shock to them. There are murders connected with the selection of the canons – Michael is not the only new one – and there is the reappearance of a mysterious chalice (the “tarnished chalice” of the title) that went missing in Cambridge twenty years earlier when a man was hanged for stealing it. The city is riven between two rival factions, the bishop seems helpless, and the sheriff is interested only in bribes.

Our two heroes cannot wait to get back to their warm, comfortable, ivory-tower lives in peaceful Cambridge. However, they get embroiled in events and, as always with Susanna Gregory, we soon get caught up in them too.

Apart from Anya Seton’s Katherine, I hadn’t read anything set in 14th-century Lincoln. After The Tarnished Chalice, I feel almost as at home there as I would be in medieval London or Varanasi. And speaking of medieval Varanasi (aka Kashi, Benares – see my post on Kashi) did you know that India was way ahead of Europe in medical knowledge at this time? Unlike the Christian and Islamic civilisations, Hinduism had a very liberal attitude towards research and experimentation. There was no problem about dissecting dead bodies – the concept of the circulation of the blood was understood – and botany/herbalism was scientifically studied and researched. Matthew Bartholomew would have been fascinated!

Matthew is a bit of a prude, actually, even by medieval standards, but in this book at least that is more than made up for by the presence of some women who are quite the opposite, including not only Matilde hovering in the background, but a King’s ward, the young widow Christiana de Hauville and the older Sabina (my favourite).

It has to be said that it is rather long for what it is (Ellis Peters never needed 500 pages to tell the Brother Cadfael stories) but definitely recommended for a relaxed long weekend’s reading.




One response

11 03 2017
AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE by Susanna Gregory | Kanti Burns, Book Reviews and more ...

[…] the last Matthew Bartholomew story I reviewed here (The Tarnished Challice – six years ago!) An Unholy Alliance is long, and slow, but if total immersion in […]

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