A late spring in 1142 has the Abbey monks dismayed, for there may be no roses by June 22nd. For three years, the wealthy young widow Judith Perle has rented her house to the monks for the price of a single rose each year. When nature finally complies, a pious monk is sent to pay the rentand found murdered beside the hacked rosebush.
Without a rose, the monks rental contract becomes void, adding greatly to the widows dowry. But before Brother Cadfael can ponder if a greedy suitor has done this dreadful deed, another crime is committed. Now the good monk must thread his way through a tangle more tortuous than the widows thorny bushes.