Five years previously, the village of Melford was plagued by a terrible killer, violating and murdering a string of young women. Sir Roger Chapeleys was tried, convicted and executed of the crimes and peace reigned once more… for a while. Now the murders have started once more – two young women have been lured to their deaths by a masked figure. In addition, two of the jurors who convicted Chapeleys have been found murdered – executed in horrific ways. It seems a message is being sent… but to whom?
Edward I sends his chief investigator, Sir Hugh Corbett, to investigate. But as the deaths continue, it seems there may be more than one killer stalking the streets of Melford. And the last thing any killer wants is the King’s clerk sniffing around…
If you’ve read my last book of the month post, I’ve been struggling with reading recently. A combination of many things – a lack of free time, a somewhat disappointing selection of books, playing with my new mobile phone too much… oh, and Assassin’s Creed II. Far too much fun. Anyway, after New Author August, it’s time for Old Author October. Basically I’ll be concentrating (review requests apart) on my favourite authors to rekindle that spark. And what better way to start than with Paul Doherty?
Let’s be precise about that, a Hugh Corbett novel by Paul Doherty. I think it’s safe to say that while I enjoy all of Doherty’s output, his best work tends to be in two series – the Brother Athelstan and the Hugh Corbett books. While the Corbett series got off to a shaky start, since the fifth book, The Prince of Darkness, the books have all been outstanding. Great stories, rich historical background and decent whodunnits. Arguably the clueing can be lacking – Doherty usually goes for the only solution that makes sense approach – these are all first rate reads.
I know, you’re expecting a “but not this time” comment now. Sorry, though, this is one of the very best of the series.
Oh, some detail? It’s almost tempting to leave it there, but that wouldn’t be much of a review, would it?
The village – a new setting for a Corbett book – is a well-crafted setting. Devoid of the usual lords and ladies that populate the books, we’re concerned mostly with the everyday medieval folk. And by not having a band of soldiers or lords or priests, etc, Doherty avoids the one niggle I sometimes have with his books, namely a set of interchangeable suspects and/or victims. Everyone here is distinctive and has their own motivations and responses to the terror that has returned to their lives.
The atmosphere is unsettling as well. A ghost seems to lurk around every corner and as the picture begins to emerge of the so-called Mummers Man, a masked monster stalking the countryside, you begin to realise that this is no mere murderer being chased by Corbett, but a genuine nightmare.
The mystery itself is well done. One aspect is quite guessable, partly due to an attempt at misdirection that stood out to this reader, but the second, more substantial part of the mystery is very well-hidden and yet makes perfect sense. There’s a misdirection ploy here as well, which, to be honest, pointed me towards the killer rather than away from them, but I felt that I’d done well to spot it in this case.
So, to summarise, one of the best of the Doherty novels to date. Very enjoyable, very creepy and a great read. Highly recommended.
Oh, by the way, there’s a whole slew of Doherty books appearing on Kindle now and in the next few months. Apart from the Athelstan books that have been around for a while, the Amerotke books, the other ancient Egypt books and the standalone novels are available now, and it looks like some of the Ancient Rome series and the Roger Shallot books will be coming soon. One of the Corbett novels, Crown in Darkness is coming soon as well, so it’s possible that the rest will appear at the same time. Excellent news!