I nearly didn't read this title in the series. The first two books in the series were good enough that I requested a couple additional titles, but I wasn't eagerly awaiting them. This was a faster paced story that comes form characters becoming better defined. I enjoyed the setting of the fair. A good whodunnit that also allows us to explore religous fanatacism during a religously tenuous period, as well as the evolution of relationships of people who know one another well.
Matthew Stock, country constable, becomes involved in murderous matters when he discovers that a bear, trained to kill dogs for the St. Bartholomew Fair--attended by Queen Elizabeth of England--also kills people.
A handsome young religious fanatic named Gabriel Stubbs kills a puppet master who has offered him company and transportation on the road to London. Inflamed by a Puritan pamphlet that describes Satans disguises, Stubbs defaces his victim with what look like claw scratches, the mark of the beast.
The body is examined by Matthew Stock, the county constable who is journeying on the same road toward Bartholomew Fair with his wife, Joan. At the fair, Matthew meets Ned Babcock, an old acquaintance now managing a bear baiting exhibition. Gabriel Stubbs has secured a job as attendant to Samson the Bear after disposing of the previous helper and casting suspicion for the death on the bear itself.
Joan Stock is deeply shaken by the warnings of a palm reader who foresees imminent danger to Joan and Matthew. More deaths occur, characterized by bear-like slashes; one victim is drowned in a butt of malmsey wine.
Matthew is empowered to investigate the crimes, urged to expedite matters by Sir Robert Cecil, the Queens Principal Secretary. Now old and infirm, Queen Elizabeth is determined to attend Bartholomew Fair and to mingle with her subjects. Under present circumstances, although her visit is astute politically, it is personally dangerous. Sensitive to Joans powers of observation, Matthew identifies a murderer. Soon after, Joan herself alerts the Queens guardians to yet another menace.