The Demon Archer by Paul Doherty

Ashdown Forest, St Matthew’s Day, 1303. The outlaw known as the Owlman stalks the forest, determined to make trouble for Lord Henry Fitzalan, an all-round leching, witch-consorting, selfish, nasty piece of work. But who exactly is the Owlman? And does he hate Lord Henry enough to shoot an arrow through his throat while he is entertaining a delegation from King Philip of France?

Hugh Corbett, clearly feeling a bit better after the end of The Devil’s Hunt, is called into action by King Edward to investigate. But when everyone had a reason to hate Lord Henry – and everyone seems to be an excellent archer – can he find the person who was desperate enough to kill him? With his nemesis de Craon hovering in the wings, Corbett finds that there may be darker motives than simple hatred.

Right, a quick apology – this is going to be a shorter review than normal as I’ve just come back from a week lounging around the pool and eating weird spiny fish in Lanzarote and I read a few books. Eleven, in total, and this was the first. So my memory of it, and some of the others, may be a little hazy, but my one “blog rule” is to review everything I read, so here goes…

Those early, slightly disappointing, Hugh Corbett books really are a thing of the past. Yet again, Paul Doherty’s longest running series – this is the eleventh out of seventeen – has produced another outstanding read. All of his strengths are here – historical detail, a convincing central cast, a fast-moving plot – and his occasional weaknesses are noticeably absent. All of the suspects are distinct characters, with enough page-time to be developed into viable suspects, and the solution to the mystery is set-up well, with the final denouement both blindingly obvious once it has been explained and subtle enough that I completely missed it. Add in some chilling moments – is it just me, or is a surprise arrow through the throat a horrible thing to think about? – and you’ve got a great historical mystery.

Quibbles? It is rather handy that virtually everyone in the cast seems to be a master bowman, but it removes the cheat of “oh yes, didn’t I mention I used to be a champion archer” after the killer is revealed. And even then, this idea has something clever done with it.

So, recommended as highly as possible. Another outstanding entry in (since The Prince Of Darknesss at least) an outstanding series.


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