Outside the pale of the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in September of the year of our Lord 1140, a priestly emissary for King Stephen has been reported missing. But inside the pale, Brother Cadfael's attention is turned on Meriet, a proud, secretive, nineteen-year-old novice who has been delivered to the abbey by his over-bearing father the Lord of Aspley, to begin a religious vocation.
Meriet, meek by day, is so racked by dreams at night that his howl earns him the nickname of the Devil's Novice. Shunned and feared, Meriet is soon linked to the missing priest's fate. Only Brother Cadfael believes in Meriet's innocence and only the good sleuth can uncover the truth before a boy's pure passion, not evil intent, leads a novice to the noose.