The Nun's Tale


Candace Robb


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

October 21, 2022

he Nun's Tale is the third tale in the Owen Archer series. It is set in 14th century England, during the reign of King Edward III. Owen Archer is a former archer, who was blinded in one eye and now has retired to a second career in the northern city of York. Officially, Owen Archer is an apprentice apothecarist, learning from his wife the herbs and plants used for healing. But Archer actually works as a henchman for John Thoresby, the Archbishop of York. When troubles arise, Thoresby sends Archer to investigate.

Troubling news has reached Archbishop Thoresby of York. Joanna Calverley, a nun from the Clementhorpe convent, claims to have arisen from her grave. She is cloaked a blue shawl - which Joanna claims is from the Virgin Mary. Joanna says that she was a sinner in her first life - she stole a relic, a bottle that contains the breast milk of the Virgin Mary, and now Joanna has been returned to life in order to return the stolen relic. Unfortunately, there is a the troubling matter of dead men that lie fallen in the wake of this resurrected woman. Fearing turmoil amongst the gullible populace, Thoresby calls on Archer, telling him to investigate the nun's claims, while also learn who killed the men.

Archer is not a willing troubleshooter. His wife, Lucie, is quite pregnant, and Archer wants to be around her during the last months of the pregnancy. But an archbishop is not to be defied, so soon Archer in on the case.

Joanna is ill and held in the infirmary in York. Because Lucie is an apothecarist, she is the closest thing medieval York has as a doctor, so Archer's wife is brought into the case of the resurrected nun. Indeed, Joanna seems willing only to talk to Lucie, not the monks and nuns of the infirmary. Not that Joanna's words make much sense. Much to Archer's frustration, Joanna talks in only the vaguest of term about people, places and times. Archer needs to track down murderers, and Joanna clearly lets on more than she will reveal. But when Archer presses for more information, Joanna will retreat into proclaiming mystical nonsense, or plead exhaustion.

Archer ends up following leads, and reluctantly finds himself drawn away from York and Lucie. Dead men are identified, the fate of missing men is discovered, and eventually he unravels the sequence of events, as violent men had attacked each other; and what Joanna's part was in all of these crimes.

This novel does a lot to develop the characters of the ongoing series - Owen Archer and Lucie, their adopted son Jasper, and Lucie's father, Sir Robert. Also some of Archer's companions from when he worked as a bowman in the King's service. We learn more about Archbishop Thorseby, and a few hints are given as to why he distrusts the new mistress of King Edward III so much.

I liked Robb's descriptions of life in medieval England. In the same vein as Peter's portrayal of England in the Brother Cadfael series, the Owen Archer books have a lot of details of how people lived and thought back then (visitors try to see Joanna in the infirmary, in the hopes of touching the blue shawl and receiving a miraculous cure.) What I didn't like so much was the endless evasions of Joanna. One of the characters, frustrated when talking to Joanna and receiving her non-answers, has the impulse to pick her up and shake the truth out of her. I entirely understood his impulse! But the series is strong enough that I hope to read the next book, The King's Bishop, in the series (which is now up to 14 books).