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…
I didn;t realise Doherty was potentially so hard to get hold of – how quickly times change – I shall really have to keep an eye out. Another excellent review and one I haven;t read – well done mate!
In terms of availability, I’ve yet to see a copy in a bookshop – but that’s basically two medium-sized Waterstones and my local independent. The only historical fiction they had, apart from Sansom, was the first Ariana Franklin novel. Interestingly, there weren’t even any Cadfael books. Not that I rate them, but I’d have thought they’d still be selling.
I think it’s a real shame. These are accessible, entertaining, informative and intriguing mysteries. I’m going to do what I can to sing their praises.
[…] In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel Spoiler Free Reviews of Fair Play Detective Fiction Skip to content HomeAbout the authorThe Ellery Queen Bibliography, or, A Challenge To This ReaderSir Henry Merrivale ← Corpse Candle by Paul Doherty […]
[…] asked what I was looking for, so I replied Paul Doherty – my current minor obsession – see here and here. She was very helpful and we eventually found a copy of The Mysterium, the most recent […]
[…] Hugh Corbett, and are set a century later. They are altogether a more thoughtful affair – both Corpse Candle and Nightshade had bodies dropping left and right, whereas this one only has one murder taking […]
[…] Corbett (which isn’t even hinted at in the later books that I have read so far – see here and here) and also learn how he allies himself with Ranulf-atte-Newgate, his manservant. But as with so many […]
[…] I returned a couple of weeks later and lo and behold, copies of Corpse Candle, The Magician’s Death and The Waxman Murders had also appeared – the last two also […]
[…] lot of backstory to Hugh Corbett that fleshed out the character much more than he was in the later Corpse Candle or Nightshade, by which time he is happily married without a mention of past […]
[…] I would say that is part of what made is a much superior book than these four. Similarly the later Corpse Candle and Nightshade have the same structure – Doherty uses ideas from history for the plot, but is […]
[…] still some distance from the more dangerous character who deals with road bandits in the later Corpse Candle… well, that’s still a few books […]