There’s a minor dispute going on at St Martin’s-In-The-Marsh monastery over the development of some land that contains a sacred burial mound. Meanwhile, Abbot Stephen is about to prove his prowess at exorcism on someone possessed by the local ghost, Sir Geoffrey Mandeville. Nothing too controversial, surely, but soon, Abbot Stephen is found locked inside his own study, knifed through the heart and the remaining leading monks of the order are dropping like flies, branded on the forehead with the symbol of Mandeville.
Do the corpse candles, glowing out in the marsh, really foretell death? Is it the ghost of Mandeville that blows the hunting horn out in the marsh, summoning his demonic riders? Or can there be a more human explanation? Well, yes, obviously. This isn’t called “In Search of the Classic Ghost Story”, is it?
I can be rather impetuous at times. After enjoying Nightshade so much, I went to my local library and borrowed the three preceding novels in the series. And before reading any of those, I went onto the Abebooks website and bought another six (for about 60p each!). So, after now reading the second book in the series, was it a wise investment?
Well, again, Paul Doherty does a good job of painting the characters without blowing the mystery. Some authors would have played up the obvious (but incorrect) villain – the Prior of the monastery, but Doherty realises there is little point in that and doesn’t waste our time, instead giving us a few insights into that character’s point of view – interesting it is through his point of view that we first meet Sir Hugh Corbett and chums. Each of the main monks gets a little airtime, usually before getting shot by an arrow or having their head squashed by a large rock, and you get a feel for these well-drawn characters.
Corbett, the hero of the piece, is an interesting character. Loyal to the King, but firstly to the law, he is a contrast to his assistant Ranulf, who’s priorities lie the other way round. In both books that I’ve read so far, Ranulf takes a more direct approach to punishment, as shown by how he deals with the local wolfshead. There is a little tension between the two friends over this difference of opinion and it might have been nice to have seen a little more.
As for the mystery… well, I got most of it, but there were enough surprises for me to keep me happy. The clues are there, but to be honest, it’s more of a “spot the only solution that makes sense” and it does make perfect sense. The locked room is a massive cheat, though, as it’s so obvious that at least one character should have suggested it at the time, but even so, I found myself not particularly caring, given how much I was enjoying the rest of it. The death count in this book reaches double figures – close to twenty in fact, if you count the outlaws despatched by Ranulf – more than enough to keep the armchair sleuth busy.
A well-written, enjoyable, classic historical mystery. I’m certainly looking forward to my package of Paul Doherty’s books arriving soon. Maybe I need to start a bibliography for him too…
WHERE CAN I GET THIS BOOK IN THE UK?
I’d love to say “in all good bookshops” as it seems to be still in print, but check out this post for the truth of that statement. Amazon have it here but to be honest, that’s not cheap for a paperback. Abebooks have a number of cheaper alternatives…