Two pieces of disclosure to get out at the very beginning: Prof. Holsinger was my instructor an excellent class entitled "Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction." I also received an advance reader's copy of the book through his publisher.
So, with all of that said: wow, what a ride!
The story starts with the murder of a young woman and the theft of a ancient book that contains accurate prophecies of the deaths of England's kings -- and one about the current monarch, Richard II. Poets John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer are working on finding the book ... as is half of England's gentry, because the Duke of Lancaster is implicated in the plot.
And who happens to find the book? A whore named Agnes, who witnesses the murder of the young woman. She tells her friend, a transvestite prostitute called Eleanor, about it.
Holsinger uses the devices of the prostitutes (called maudlyns during the period, based on the contemporary pronunciation of Magdalene) to introduce us to the underworld of London and Southwark, then two different towns. Thus, we have something of an "Upstairs, Downstairs" look at the culture of the time through the eyes of characters both high and low.
The mystery unfolds through the missing poetry, and I must admit that I was constantly surprised as facts and red herrings alike were introduced to keep the reader guessing until the very end.
The book is well-researched, with Holsinger providing information on books and primary sources he consulted to create the novel. I highly recommend it for fans of historical mysteries; this is one of the finest I've read.