Chaucer’s pilgrims have once again stopped for the night and it’s time for the physician to tell his tale of mystery and murder. Oddly, there’s not a doctor in sight in his tale of Brother Anselm and his novice Stephen who are summoned to a church in Candlewick to perform an exorcism. The spirits have been unleashed by the notorious Midnight Man, a mysterious masked warlock, but why have they been unleashed? Are there other motives at work other than raising spirits for the fun of it? And was it the spirits who threw someone off the deserted church tower, or stabbed someone inside the locked church? Or is an earthly hand helping matters along?
It’s been ten years since A Haunt of Murder, the sixth in the Canterbury Tales series, and one wonders why there was such a wait before Paul Doherty returned to the series. In some ways, it holds the most potential of any of his series as he can basically write stand-alone stories under a series banner, and, as we’ve established before, the style of the stories – ghost stories, historical conspiracies, murder mysteries – can vary much more so that a series with a regular sleuth. So, how does this, the seventh in the series stand up to what has gone before?
Well, it’s certainly close to the best of the series, but as we’ve also established before, I don’t see eye to eye with some of my fellow reviewers – notably Patrick – on which are the best in series, so that probably doesn’t mean much.
Clearly from the set-up, we’re talking real ghosts and demons here in part, and certainly the opening sections, concerning the first attempted exorcism of the church, are chilling. The ghosts come and go thereafter and while there are other creepy sections, nothing came close to emulating the opening for me. It seems that exorcisms are something the writer does well – there’s another one in A Haunt of Murder that is just as creepy. Thereafter, the ghosts mostly appear to remind you there’s a threat rather than actually doing an awful lot. Because it’s quite clear that the mystery that you’re supposed to be interested in is the identity and motives of the Midnight Man.
The other strand running through the book is the story of the Crown Jewels Robbery of 1303, as Richard Puddlicot, the thief in question, hid a fair portion of the loot, and it’s clear that this is important. The Robbery itself is also important to the author as well, having authored a book on it and also featuring Puddlicot himself in Murder Wears A Cowl. Well, it seems that after Hugh Corbett caught him in that book, bad things happened.
As is often the case with Doherty’s books, there’s a pretty high body count here as the Midnight Man ups his game, and after a while it began reading more like a thriller. While the identity of the warlock is written as a mystery, the revelation of it seemed less important to the story.
In fact I was thinking about this the other day – what makes a good mystery? What I came up with was a simple idea – did I, at any point, put the book down to have a think about what was going on? I’ll be honest here – I really enjoyed the book, but at no time did I feel the need to have a little ponder on the events happening therein. Also, once the villain stands revealed, there were no little bits where I mentally kicked myself for not spotting something – although there are clues, and, to be fair, I did like the mechanism for the locked church mystery.
So, to conclude, a strong contribution to the series – not up there with A Haunt of Murder or The Hangman’s Hymn, but an entertaining page-turner, even if the mystery itself didn’t quite grab me. Recommended – but you might need to pester your library to get a copy.