It is November 1302 and a chill wind, known locally as The Dark Angel, sweeps across the Wash, chilling all of Norfolk to the bone. On the cliffs above Hunstanton Bay, the wife of the local baker hangs from a tree. On the beach below, a headless corpse lies next to its head, proudly impaled on a spike. But there is no evidence of anyone approaching either body, other than the victims themselves. Are the legends of witchcraft in the area true? Or is another, more recent legend, the reason behind these apparently senseless killings? Sir Hugh Corbett has been dispatched by the King himself to find the truth, but it seems that the King may be playing a deeper game. Another of the King’s agents, the sinister Monck, is already there… and it seems that he does not share Corbett’s morals.
This is the eighth in the Hugh Corbett series from Paul Doherty – it’s Doherty’s longest series to date, stretching to seventeen books to date, and the previous three books in the series, The Prince of Darkness, Murder Wears A Cowl and The Assassin In The Greenwood, are all excellent examples of what Doherty does best – a cracking mystery plot, some fascinating glimpses of history, vivid descriptions and, most of all, a first-rate story. So, does this book continue the excellent run?
For whatever reason, I’d been putting this one off – possibly because from the blurb, it doesn’t seem to stand out as that interesting. A scary wind and a couple of corpses in Norfolk. Doesn’t exactly seem as interesting as the previous book, with Robin Hood, or the next one, Satan’s Fire, with its spontaneous human combustion. There doesn’t seem to be any tie-in to an actual historical event, like The Prince of Darkness, so where was the hook?
Well, as it happens, I was off on holiday and it fitted nicely into my pocket. That’s what made the decision for me and I’m very glad that I picked it up. First off all, there is a historical link – in the early thirteenth century, about eighty years before the events here, King John lost a pile of treasure in the Wash and the appearance of parts of it form part of the events herein. There are, of course, a few more murders, although not the huge body count that occurs sometimes from the pen of Doherty.
In fact, I’d say that this is one of Doherty’s better mysteries. The plot strands tie up nicely and the villain(s?) are well-clued. While, as usual, virtually everyone has something to hide, it dovetails together into the climax very neatly. In his review of The Cup of Ghosts, Patrick mentioned that he needed a checklist as to who was who in the list of suspects. He makes a good point about that book and, if I was honest, some of Doherty’s other works as well, but it certainly isn’t the case here. I missed the murderer, having my eye on a well-constructed red herring character, and the ending is very well done. The impossible element is only a small part of the mystery, but it is well done.
A final mention has to be made for the last page – the realisation that just because the murderer is caught doesn’t make it a happy ending for anyone. Very well done.
So, highly recommended. Don’t be put off by the uninspiring blurb, this ranks as one of the best so far of the series.