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The lord Bishop of Winchester's clerk is bludgeoned to death in Pershore Abbey and laid before the altar in the attitude of a penitent. Everyone who had contact with him had reason to dislike him, but who had reason to kill him? The Sheriff of Worcestershire's thief taker, wily Serjeant Catchpoll, and his new and unwanted superior, Acting Under-sheriff Hugh Bradecote, have to find the answer. At first nobody wants the murderer to be apprehended, but attitudes soon change when another body is discovered.