The Relic Murders by Paul Doherty

The Relic Murders1523, London and Henry VIII’s eye is beginning to wander in the direction of Anne Boleyn. Meanwhile, due to Roger Shallot ’s machinations, his master, Benjamin Daunbey, is sent to Italy on a diplomatic mission. Sworn to avoid Benjamin’s beloved Miranda, Shallot turns instead to the trade of selling relics. Needless to say, this doesn’t end well…

Rescued from a seemingly inevitable fate, Shallot is inveigled into the King’s latest scheme – to steal back the Orb of Charlemagne whilst in transit to the French. But the Orb is under armed guard and sealed inside a casket – and moreover, before Roger can make any sort of move, the Orb is stolen by someone else and the entire contingent of guards is slaughtered without anyone putting up the slightest resistance. Soon Shallot and the returned Benjamin are in a race against time to find the murderer and the real Orb – else the King himself will deliver a terrible punishment…

As ever, when life is rather more hectic than usual, I turn to the writers who are almost guaranteed to give me a good read. And for an added bonus, this book featuring King Henry VIII, and those readers who know me very well will know why I picked this one…

I digress. This is the final outing for Roger Shallot, to date, and I would imagine if Paul Doherty had any plans to return to the characters, then he would have done so in the preceding sixteen years. It seems a shame, given the hints that Roger keeps dropping about his later adventures, but I think there was probably a good reason for drawing a line under the series. There is a tad of repetition creeping in to the structure – Shallot gets into trouble to be rescued by Benjamin, Shallot annoys and outwits Henry VIII and is tasked with solving a mystery by him, the mystery is solved, relating in part to Shallot’s earlier misadventures.

Maybe that’s nit-picking – you could summarise a lot of series in the same brief way – but if you compare it to the variation in, say, Doherty’s own Canterbury Tales series, then it is structurally more confined. I think the reason for the structure is that Doherty is unwilling to stretch out a plot beyond its natural length – a lesson a lot of writers could benefit from – and to keep the story going, introduces other ideas. For Athelstan and Amerotke, there is usually one additional problem to be solved, for the Canterbury Tales, there are the events unfolding amongst the storytellers and here, it’s the misadventures of Shallot, which I do find, on occasion, to be a distraction from the main plot. There’s nothing here quite as odd as the hunt in the previous book, but it does take a while for the main plot to kick off.

Anyway, what about this book? It’s an entertaining read, with enough of Bluff King Hal to keep me satisfied. The mystery is primarily a conspiracy of who’s doing what to who, with a central who-and-how-dunnit. The who is pretty guessable, but it all comes together in a very satisfying way.

And kudos to Doherty for stepping back from making Shallot do the nasty thing that he appeared to be on the verge of doing at the end of the previous book. Not entirely Shallot’s own choice, but I thought it was a step too far, even for him, and I’m glad that he doesn’t get the chance to… probably a spoiler for the previous book, so I’ll stop there.

So, overall, recommended – one of the better books in the series and a good one to finish on. Although it has to be said, Paul Doherty’s next book is going to deal with the death of Henry VIII. It’s probably too much to hope for old Shallot to make a cameo…

Where to find this book:

Been a while, but thought I’d start doing this again. Out of print, but available as a mid-priced ebook.


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