Susanna Gregory

Historical crime fiction. Medieval murder mysteries.
    Restoration intrigue and treachery.

A Grave Concern

The Twenty-Second Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

A Grave ConcernCan a spate of murders, a feud between local tomb builders, and ill patients be connected? Bartholomew and Michael are forced to investigate before more of their friends and colleagues die mysteriously.

Identifying the murderer of the Chancellor of the University is not the only challenge facing physician Matthew Bartholomew. Many of his patients have been made worse by the ministrations of a ‘surgeon’ recently arrived from Nottingham, his sister is being rooked by the mason she has commissioned to build her husband’s tomb, and his friend, Brother Michael, has been offered a Bishopric that will cause him to leave Cambridge.

Brother Michael, keen to leave the University in good order, is determined that the new Chancellor will be a man of his choosing. The number of contenders putting themselves forward for election threatens to get out of control; then more deaths in mysterious circumstances make it appear that someone is taking extreme measures to manipulate the competition.

With passions running high and a bold killer at large, both Bartholomew and Brother Michael fear the very future of the University is at stake.

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Extract

Cambridge, February 1360

An enormous crowd had gathered outside St Mary the Great, and everyone in it was gazing upwards. On the top of the tower, high above, the University’s Chancellor was doing battle with the Devil, a desperate, frantic struggle that surged back and forth, perilously close to the edge. More than once it seemed the pair would plummet to their deaths. Or Chancellor Tynkell would: most suspected it would take rather more to eliminate Satan.

There was a collective gasp from the onlookers as the wrestling pair lurched violently to one side, dislodging a coping stone, which crashed to the ground below. Then Tynkell managed to wrap his hands around his opponent’s throat. There was a cheer of encouragement from the crowd, especially when the Devil began to flail around in a frantic effort to breathe.

Brother Michael had seen enough, and raced towards the church, Bartholomew at his heels. The vestry door was shut fast, but it only took a moment to ascertain that a key had been used, not some diabolical device. It was still in the hole, and a jab from one of Bartholomew’s surgical probes saw it drop to the floor on the other side. There was a large gap between door and flagstones, so it was easy for the physician to slip his hand beneath and retrieve it.

‘I thought you had keys to this place,’ he remarked, inserting it into the lock and pushing the door open. Behind him, a disappointed moan from the crowd suggested that Lucifer had just broken the Chancellor’s death grip.

‘I do, but I rarely carry them these days,’ explained the monk, shoving past him and hurrying inside. ‘Although I do have them for the tower and the University Chest – which contains all our money and most precious documents. There are only two sets of keys in existence for the tower and the Chest, and this is one of them.’

‘Who has the other? Tynkell?’

‘He did, but I took it away and gave it to Meadowman instead.’

‘How did he get up the tower, then?’ asked Bartholomew.

Michael gave him a blank look, then hissed irritably when haste made him clumsy, and he could not find the right key. ‘I thought I had loaded him with enough extra duties to keep him out of mischief. He should not have time for this sort of nonsense.’

Outside, there was another collective groan of disappointment, suggesting that the action on the roof had moved out of sight. Michael muttered a quick prayer of thanks when he found the right key at last. He started to thrust it into the hole, then gaped in disbelief when the door swung open of its own accord.

‘This is always kept locked,’ he said angrily, gathering the voluminous folds of his habit as he prepared to tackle the spiral staircase. ‘Even when one of us is working up there. Tynkell is turning into a real menace.’

Knowing the monk’s upwards progress would be stately, Bartholomew pushed past him and went first, climbing as fast as he dared up steps that were unlit, icy and perilously uneven. It was not easy, and he was obliged to clamber back down again when Michael fell and released a yelp of pain, although the monk flapped an impatient hand, telling him to go on without him.

The tower comprised three large chambers, set one above the other. The first contained the bells, a trio of tuneful domes suspended in a wooden frame. Bartholomew glanced in as he hurried past, noting that it was empty. The second was the Chest Room, protected by an iron-bound door with two substantial locks. He rattled it, but it was shut fast. The third was a vast empty space containing nothing but the mess left by pigeons. Then came the roof. Bartholomew opened the little door that gave access to it, and saw Tynkell slumped on the far side.

The wind buffeted the top of the tower so hard up there that it was difficult to stay upright, while the slates underfoot were treacherously uneven and slick with ice. As he waited briefly for the wild gusts to subside, he wondered what had induced Tynkell to fight under such conditions.

‘Matt!’ yelled Michael, hobbling up the last few stairs just as Bartholomew was preparing to abandon the shelter of the door. ‘Wait! Where is his opponent?’

Instinct had prompted Bartholomew to rush to the Chancellor’s aid, and the possibility that he might be in danger himself had not crossed his mind. He looked around in alarm, but the roof was deserted.

‘He is not here,’ he replied, although Michael could see this for himself. ‘He must have fallen over the edge while we were coming up the stairs.’

He lurched towards the Chancellor and shook his shoulder. There was no response. Alarmed, he felt for a life-beat, and then stared in shock when he could not find one.

‘He is dead!’ he whispered in stunned disbelief. ‘Chancellor Tynkell … he is gone!’