A Twisted Vengeance by Candace Robb is a historical mystery set in York at the end of the 14th century, where young widow Kate Clifford—struggling to keep her businesses afloat—realizes that her mother is harboring a dangerous secret.
To say Kate Clifford’s mother, Eleanor, is a handful is an understatement. Eleanor flees Strasbourg, returning to York with three beguines to establish a Martha House. That, according to the book’s glossary, is “a household of lay religious women dedicated to serving the community.” Oh, and beguines are “a community of women leading lives of religious devotion who, unlike those who entered convents, were not bound by permanent vows.” Since A Twisted Vengeance takes place in 1399, the lexicon is useful—though, for the most part, the dialogue is modernized and easy to follow.
Adding insult to injury, Eleanor moves into the residence next door to Kate, who’s running a guesthouse. Her “pious” mother’s keen eye takes note of the men who frequent the inn wanting a quiet moment with their mistresses. Kate also cares for her late husband Simon’s kids—not from a previous marriage, mind you, but with his own courtesan who has also passed away. She’s a busy woman with an extra complicated life, and Eleanor pokes at her: What would happen, she inquires, if people knew she was a bawd (a woman in charge of a brothel)?
“And who is to tell them? You, Mother? Is that what your sudden obeisance to the Church has taught you—to slander your daughter? To undo all my work in healing three children who have already lost so much?” God in heaven, Kate had said it aloud. She had vowed to remain silent, to refuse her mother’s bait.
“Your life is a shambles, Katherine.” With every word, Eleanor sought to undermine all that Kate had accomplished. Why? …
“I am leaving you now,” Kate said, stepping through the door and out into the night.
At least she did not include me in the attack, her dead twin whispered in her mind.
Yes, at least that, Geoff.
Well, that’s different. I’ve heard twins hold a powerful connection, but apparently Geoff has assimilated himself into Kate’s soul. Odd little technique that works most of the time, as Kate’s “consciousness” continually comments on the proceedings and offers frank advice. A good thing because she will need that unusual buttress—besides her mother’s unhealthy interference, creditors are knocking on the door, and York is preparing for the possibility of civil war with the rumored return of Henry of Lancaster from exile attempting to take the crown from King Richard.
So, when dogs begin barking one early morning, Kate can reasonably assume it is armed men priming for a fight. But instead the hounds guide her to Eleanor’s house where there’s blood in the kitchen—all over the floor and walls. It would seem one of the girls has been attacked.
At first Dina did not move, not even a twitch, and Kate feared the worst, though there was no evidence of blood pooling beneath her. She sat back on her heels and waited. The prie-dieu creaked as Magistra Matilda rose. Tucking the paternoster beads up her sleeve, she approached, but stopped as Sister Dina drew in her arms and tried to push herself up. She wobbled. Fearing she might fall back on her face, Kate reached out to support her. But Dina went limp in her arms.
A mystery ensues as Kate Clifford begins investigating the possibility that there’s a lot more going on in her mother’s world than has been admitted to. There may also be some political intrigue surrounding Eleanor’s quick exit from Strasbourg and the why behind her own deceased husband.
Candace Robb’s A Twisted Vengeance is a historical mystery well worth your time with its satisfying, textured characters and hard-to-guess-where-it’s-all-going plot.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.