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A Dark Night Hidden Book Summary and Study Guide

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Josse d'Acquin investigates the murder of a vicious, fanatical priest and helps a group of Cathars escape to France. In A Dark Night Hidden [ISBN 0-340-79332-5] Alys Clare describes treachery and its resolution, and follows the lives and decisions of several people faced with difficult, ethical decisions based upon conflicting ideas of right and wrong.
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Sir Josse d'Acquin, of New Winnowlands in Kent, has been visiting his Uncle Hugh of Lewes, his late mother's brother, when he hears news of King Richard, the Lionheart. “King Richard a prisoner? Nonsense – this cannot be so. Someone must be having a wicked jest.”

However, it is true, and Queen Eleanor, King Richard's mother, is distressed because her son is being held for ransom in Austria. She goes for comfort and counsel to Hawkenlye Abbey, where Abbess Helewise has been her friend and confidant for many years. After the Abbess agrees that she and the rest of the community will pray for Queen Eleanor and her son, the Queen says “I have for Hawkenlye a bag of gold…Put it to whatever use you see fit. My only stipulation is that whatever you do is done in the name of the King and his mother.”

Abbess Helewise decides to use the money for the production of an “herbal” – a book showing pictures of medicinal plants and describing their uses. She feels that this helpful volume will be a fitting, permanent tribute to Queen Eleanor and King Richard. She orders the materials and arranges for Sister Phillipa, who is a brilliant artist, to begin work.

Abbess Helewise has several distressing dilemmas at the moment. One is that the kindly priest who serves the community, Father Gilbert, has been injured in a fall on the ice. He has broken an ankle and hit his head, resulting in a concussion. Until he is able to work again, he has been replaced by a vicious, fanatical priest -- Father Micah.

Known as the “Black Man” in the village, Fr. Micah “…has become known to quite a lot of folk around here…He was feared wherever he went because he had a violent temper and he descended on the poor and the weak like a furry against which they were powerless. “ He believes in cruel punishments, such as flogging and branding, and does not believe that any type of joy is appropriate in a religious community. For example: the nuns should not sing while they work; the young nun in the infirmary should not sit down while she rolls bandages; and Sister Phillipa's illumination has too much blue and gold in it, smacking of luxury [no matter that Queen Eleanor's gold paid for it]. In particular, he believes that the community should not continue their support of unwed mothers and their children. “I expect there to be changes here…I want to see less flippancy and wasteful profligacy and more evidence of devotion…And those filthy whores are to be gone when next I visit.”

There are several confusing and violent episodes in the Abbey and in the village near it. In the village gaol, a young woman who has been branded and flogged, is, then, raped by the jailer and dies, hitting her head while trying to resist him. Two other inmates, Arnulf and Alexius, escape. The gaoler is killed, but no wounds are immediately apparent. Another woman, also branded and flogged, is brought to the abbey by two men and left for the nuns in the infirmary to help her. Finally, Father Micah is found dead on the road between Castle Hill and Hawkenlye Abbey.

Are these things related?

Sir Josse d'Acquin begins investigating. He starts with the death of the jailer. Taking with him an observant young monk, Augustus, they examine the body carefully. They find marks on his neck indicating that he's been strangled by a left-handed person with very large hands.

He, then, starts his investigation of the murder of Fr. Micah. This is much more difficult; although Fr. Micah's neck was broken there is no evidence as to how it happened. Did he have an accident where he was found? Was he killed elsewhere and his body transported to the road? There is no evidence one way or the other.

Finally, in cooperation with the help of Sheriff Gervase de Gifford, and the Lord of the High Weald, Josse solves all the murders and crimes. The two women who were branded and flogged were part of a larger group of seven people, Cathars, who had come to England to make converts. Fr. Micah, a vicious fanatic, felt that all the “heretics” should receive the most brutal punishment – branding and flogging. They were branded with an “H” on their foreheads – for heretic. The woman who died in prison, Frieda, and the two men, had been scheduled for execution when another member of their group, Benedetto, a huge man with very large hands, entered the prison, killed the gaoler, and allowed the men to escape. Another member of the group, a woman named Utta, had also been branded and flogged. She escaped in to the forest and was found and cared for by a woman named Joanna.

Josse had known and loved Joanna and wanted to marry her, but she refused. Instead, she went to live in the forest, where she learned the culture, including the healing arts [more powerful than those in the Abbey] of the forest people. Unknown to Josse, Joanna had conceived his child and now had a four month-old daughter, Meggie. Joanna found Utta and brought her, initially, to her small hut. When it became clear that even that was not safe, she built a refuge in the high branches of a yew tree.   For a time, Joanna, Meggie and Utta lived peacefully. One day, Joanna heard steps nearby; it was Fr. Micah. He was almost ready to leave when Meggie made a small sound, which he heard. He was on his way up to their sanctuary in the yew tree but Joanna, strong from her living in the forest, kicked him in the jaw, sending him head over heels down to the ground. “Even from upon the branch, Joanna heard the crack as his neck broke.” Joanna and Utta then “…carried the Black Man…up from the road that runs up from Castle Hill towards Hawkenlye Abbey.”

Finally, Josse, Gervase, and the family of the Lord of the High Weald arrange to get the Cathars to safety. Josse, very early one morning, takes Aurelia from the infirmary and brings her to the Lord's sanctuary, Saxonbury, where the others have been staying. The Lord's son, Morcar, leads them to the shore, where he gives one of the boatmen a large bag of gold. The Cathars are brought to safety in France.
Best part of story, including ending: I liked the story because it deals with the real, ethical dilemmas faced by honorable people trying to reconcile two conflicting paths, both of which seem, to them, to be right.

Best scene in story: In my favorite scene, Fr. Gilbert tells Abbess Helewise that it is “…wise to ask oneself three things before answering a difficult question. Is my reply true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” He continues “…three out of three means that I give the answer, no matter how difficult; two out of three means I may or may not depending on the circumstances; and one out of three means I keep my mouth shut.”


Opinion about the main character: I like Josse d'Acquin because of his compassion to all people, of whatever status, and of his bravery in the face of danger.


The review of this Book prepared by Maria Perper a Level 4 Yellow-Headed Blackbird scholar

Chapter Analysis of A Dark Night Hidden

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book descript. of violence and chases 10%Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 30%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 30%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 30% Tone of story    -   suspenseful (sophisticated fear) How difficult to spot villain?    -   Very difficult--no foreshadowing/clues Time/era of story:    -   ancient england/scotland What % of story relates directly to the mystery, not the subplot?    -   90% Murder of certain profession?    -   religious person Kind of investigator    -   skilled citizen investigator Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Any non-mystery subplot?    -   historical information Crime Thriller    -   Yes Murder Mystery (killer unknown)    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   wealthy Age:    -   40's-50's Ethnicity/Race    -   British

Setting

Europe    -   Yes European country:    -   England/UK

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   very gorey references to deaths/dead bodies and torture Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Alys Clare Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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