Bloodstone by Paul Doherty

In the aftermath of the battle of Poitiers, a group of mercenaries, the Wyvern Company, returned from France with a sacred ruby, alleged to have formed from Christ’s blood while he was on the cross. This Bloodstone is passed into the keeping of Sir Robert Kilverby, a wealthy merchant of Cheapside. On the eve of Sir Robert donating the bloodstone to the abbey of St Fulcher-on-Thames, he dies inside his locked room, poisoned, and the bloodstone is taken. On the same night, one of the Wyvern Company, who are lodged in the abbey, is decapitated by a single blow. The crimes must be connected, but how? Luckily, London in 1380 is the stomping ground of Sir John Cranston, Coroner to the City of London and his scribe, Brother Athelstan.

Athelstan first appeared in 1991 in The Nightingale Gallery – now on Kindle for a stupidly low price – and followed this with The House of the Red Slayer – also on Kindle – and seven other mysteries at the rate of approximately one per year. The tenth book, The House of Shadows, appeared four years later in 2003 and we haven’t heard anything from the friar since. Until now, obviously, as, with a new publisher, the Creme de la Crime range from Severn House, Brother Athelstan is back! Of the Athelstan books that I have read so far, the first four are amongst the best of Paul Doherty’s output. I was less enamoured with The Field of Blood, the ninth book, so I was a little cautious about the resumption of the series. Did I have cause to be concerned?

Nope. Not in the slightest. Bloodstone can happily sit alongside the finest in the range. There’s murders a-plenty – at least six – in a variety of gruesome-but-not-graphic ways. Cranston is his usual crass-but-cunning self and Athelstan is on fine form. It looked for a while that we weren’t going to see too much of the parishioners of St Erconwald’s, as the Regent Gaunt confines Athelstan to the abbey until the case is sorted out, but that’s not the case, as they come along on a field trip of sorts. The historical background is as rich as ever, and the spectre of the Great Community hangs over everything like a shroud.

I’m not going to say anything about the mysteries herein, as this is probably one of the first reviews that’ll appear for the book and I’m taking my spoiler-free tag very seriously today. Suffice it to say that there are fair clues and the astute can work out the villain. I didn’t but that’s not saying much…

Are there downsides? Well, the only thing that I can think of is that, browsing the Severn House website, there might be a very long wait for an affordable copy for the non-obsessives like me. My copy cost me £20 (well-spent) and it looks to me that not everything in the Creme de la Crime range makes it into paperback. I’ve also yet to see a copy in a bookshop either, but maybe it’s a bit early for that. So pester your library or get writing to Santa – this is a first-rate historical mystery that deserves a wide readership.

Some good news to finish with though – according to his website, Paul Doherty is working on another Athelstan book, The Straw Men. Let’s hope the friar is back for good…

16 comments

  1. It’s a really good feeling when an author you really like delivery on all counts – definitely worth twenty quid I would have thought. Definitely going on my Christmas list – cheers mate.

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  2. I’m glad Athelstan is back and back like his earlier self in the books I enjoyed the most. You sold another copy to me as well. Though I’ll wait until it’s released over here in March of next year. I’ll save myself shipping from overseas that way.

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  3. Let’s hear it for the Grandmaster of Historical Mysteries! I really admire his meticulous research and how *readable* the story ends up. Reading this review makes me that much more excited for his upcoming “The Midnight Man”, to be a revival of the Canterbury Tales. Doherty truly is a remarkable man!

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  4. I’m torn now between devouring the other unread Athelstans – they’re waiting on my shelf downstairs – and pacing myself across the other series… It’s a very pleasant decision to have to make.

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  5. Doc, I feel your pain/joy at having to pick between Doherty’s many series. I have to pick for my next read between the follow-up story of The Devil’s Hunt, the final Judge Amerotke novel or finally make my acquaintance with Brother Athelstan. Not to mention the Canterbury Tales and his ancient Roman mysteries and this review isn’t making things any easier. I have said this before, but the life of a mystery addict is suffering!

    That being said, it’s great to learn that Doherty is capable of maintaining a high quality of story telling and plotting in these later works.

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  6. Curse my bad timing – what a choice this would have been for my 100th book review – in fact, it’s the 99th!

    Right – now I feel perfectly justified in picking another Paul Doherty for my next effort – the question is, which one… What a pleasant conundrum.

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  7. I’d like to know your opinion on The Anubis Slayings, which still stands as the best Doherty I have read to date. It had a strange effect on me, because my opinion on it improved after sampling more of his stories.

    By the way, I have settled on The Demon Archer for my next read. Now all I need is a free moment or two.

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    • I’ll put it and The Horus Killings to the top of the pile. In fact, Bloodstone was the 96th novel/collection of short stories that I’ve reviewed – yes, I’m that sad that I needed to check (and I’d counted All In A Maze, The House in Goblin Wood and The Final Problem), so plenty of time to pick number 100. The Fourth Door will be 97, but after that… maybe a return visit to Egypt. It is overdue…

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  8. I just wanted to let you know that books 3 & 4 in the Brother Athelstan series will also be available for Kindle and other e-readers before Christmas and the remaining books in the series will follow in the New Year. Trade paperback editions of our titles are generally published approximately 8 months after the hardcover edition. We publish fiction primarily for the library market, so our titles are not generally stocked in bookshops, but are available to order.

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    • That’s excellent news concerning the ebooks. I’m not a Kindle person myself, but I know a number of my regular readers are. Out of curiosity, is Bloodstone heading for that format as well?

      I was curious about the logic of the publishing plan, so thanks for clearing that up. I’m glad to hear the book will get a readership through libraries (or what’s left of them these days). While it is a shame that it won’t hit the main bookshops, may I thank you for publishing it? I would presume that it’s hard to find a publisher for a series with an eight-year gap.

      Oh, and readers? Do what you can to find a copy of this book. And go and get the ebooks as well in case you haven’t read them yet – to repeat myself: the reviews for the first four Athelstan mysteries are accessible via the Paul Doherty tab at the top of the page.

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  9. […] In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel Spoiler Free Reviews of Fair Play Detective Fiction Skip to content HomeAbout the authorEllery QueenPaul DohertyHugh CorbettThe Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother AthelstanAmerotke, Chief Judge of ThebesThe Journals of Roger ShallotThe Canterbury TalesThe Ancient Rome MysteriesMathilde of WestminsterAlexander The GreatSir Henry Merrivale ← Bloodstone by Paul Doherty […]

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