Nightshade by Paul Doherty

51+y9Rvj1TL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgA while ago, I was searching without much success for a genuine historical mystery. A number of books, such as The Nine Giants, Death In The Setting Sun or anything that I’ve read by Ellis Peters were evocative of the ages that they were set in, but the mystery was lacking – either the killer was obvious or the mystery was only a minor aspect of the plot. The only success I had was in finding The Death Maze, which did a pretty good job of marrying the two strands. Well, I’m pleased to say that I’ve found another one – Nightshade by Paul Doherty.

In 1304, Lord Scrope, a manor lord in Essex, is doing a pretty good job of being hated by anyone who knows him. Whether it’s the Templars, who want a stolen treasure returned, or friends of the local religious brethren, who he’s recently massacred, or King Edward I himself who wants a treasure returned to him as well, he’s no-one’s favourite person. When a masked huntsman, The Sagittarius, starts shooting townsfolk at random with his longbow,  things really start to kick off. Oh, and it’s got a locked room murder as well. It’s a good thing that the King has sent Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal (whatever that means) to investigate.

This is a proper mystery. It’s reasonably clued and contains surprises along the way – for example, I was quite surprised at the identity of the locked room victim – and there’s a very unhealthy bodycount. I’ve read nasty serial-killer schlock with less victims in it than this. There must be at least 12 murders, not including the two dogs (aaah) and even then, most of them are committed for a sane reason. The characters are well drawn and despite getting some point of view sections from most of the cast, this is done without removing suspicion from anyone. While the identity of the Sagittarius is reasonably guessable, the extent of the involvement of the other characters contained at least one genuine shock – the locked room is clever, although not too original, but there is something clever that may make you overlook the obvious.

Paul Doherty has written over 50 historical mysteries in a number of different series, whilst also being headmaster of a London school. He must be an amazing time-manager, as, being a teacher myself, I know how much time that takes as well. Take my word for it, this is a well-written, well-plotted murder mystery and I have every intention of hunting down more. There’s a fascinating Author’s Note at the end detailing how Doherty has taken real historical events and woven a story around them.

One thing though – this is probably just me, but it’s very distracting having a character named Master Claypole. For UK readers of a certain age, it’s very hard not to imagine the rather unpleasant mayor of the town not wearing full motely and talking to Little Timothy all of the time.

Oh, and thanks to Sergio at Tipping My Fedora for the tip. Couldn’t find the book he recommended (The House of the Red Slayer) but this one fitted the bill nicely.


  1. Ok, not fair. After plenty of talks with Curt Evans, here I am with a huge list of books by guys like R. Austin Freeman and JJ Connington, and here you go intriguing me with a completely different book!


  2. Isn’t it always the way that when you are in the middle of something else (i.e. my Ellery Queen marathon) something comes along that makes you want to do something else.

    I only picked this up from the library as I needed a mental break from Ellery, expecting nothing more than a distraction. Never mind…

    Right – heads or tails? Heads, the Egyptian Cross Mystery, Tails, Tragedy of Z…

    Heads it is.


  3. The Brother Athelstan books are among my favorites in his many medieval mystery novels. I also like the Canterbury Tales series especially since they show Doherty’s proclivity for the inclusion of supernatural elements in a detective novel. AN ANCIENT EVIL is one of the most frightening books about the vampire cult in old Romania I have ever read. Doherty is also a good practitioner of the locked room and impossible crime. The ancient Egypt series, featuring Lord Amerotke, an advisor to a female pharaoh, is almost exclusivley made up of locked room mysteries.


  4. Do I need to read the series (ex: Brother Athelstan and Hugh Corbett) in order? or can I read, for example, this one for my first corbett just to decide if i like it or not? I have a budget so i can’t really buy all the series at once.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Order helps in the general sense – the Athelstan books build to the Peasants Revolt but it’s hardly crucial. I’d say any order is fine, but you might want to skip the first four Corbett’s initially as they are a bit different in style from the later ones


  5. Hi, i just read the kindle version and it’s pretty good…I really appreciate the historical recommendations I get from your blog also…but I have an inquiry on two things which are major*** spoilers. Please feel free to hide/delete the text below if you need to…but I just want to know if your copy of the book includes these texts because they just seem to be major spoilers, now that I have read the novel and know who did what.

    pls hide the text below since it’s a spoiler and also an inquiry


    I was just wondering…in chapter 9 (19 pages in my kindle) there’s a paragraph that describes chaplain Benedict as dame marguerite’s “shadow”

    exact text is “Dame Marguerite with her little shadow the chaplain…”

    Later, in chapter 13, it describes Claypole as Scrope’s shadow. Exact text is “If Scrope wanted something, Claypole, his shadow, never disagrees. This is about 13 pages into the kindle version.

    I don’t know but it just seems weird that the word shadow was used here for those two exact characters.

    Also, in my kindle copy, the word “bully boy” or “bully-boy” appeared about 3 times. Was that really a word in the book?

    Anyway, just wondering.


    • Bully boy is an archaic term but would have been used for a thug or enforcer back in the day. And “shadow” certains sounds like the sort of phrase that fits the period – a little odd that he uses it for two different characters, but he’s used it in other books too.


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