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In the summer of 1358 the physician Matthew Bartholomew returns to Cambridge to learn that his beloved sister is in mourning after the unexpected death of her husband, Oswald Stanmore. Aware that his son has no interest in the cloth trade that made his fortune and reputation, Oswald has left the business to his widow, but a spate of burglaries in the town distracts Matthew from supporting Edith in her grief and attempting to keep the peace between her and her wayward son.
As well as the theft of irreplaceable items from Michaelhouse, which threatens its very survival, a new foundation, Winwick Hall, is causing consternation amongst Matthew's colleagues. The founder is an impatient man determined that his name will grace the University's most prestigious college. He has used his wealth to rush the construction of the hall, and his appointed Fellows have infiltrated the charitable Guild founded by Stanmore, in order to gain the support of Cambridge's most influential citizens on Winwick's behalf.
A perfect storm between the older establishments and the brash newcomers is brewing when the murder of a leading member of the Guild is soon followed by the death of one of Winwick's senior Fellows. Assisting Brother Michael in investigating these fatalities leads Matthew into a web of suspicion, where conspiracy theories are rife but facts are scarce and where the pressure from the problems of his college and his family sets him on a path that could endanger his own future...