This is the first of three consecutive Paul Doherty books. Why? Well, it’s coming up to my 300th review, and to celebrate the release of Paul’s 100th novel, The Last Of Days, that’s going to be my 300th review, thanks to the preview copy that Paul sent me. But for 298 and 299, I’m going to look at two obscurities from his back catalogue – well, they were obscure until Headline decided to release what appears to be the entire previous 99 books as ebooks for the release of the 100th.
Edinburgh, 1567. Mary, Queen of Scots, is attempting a reconciliation with her husband, the Lord Darnley. She leaves his bedside to attend the wedding of her trusted maidservant and that night, the peace and quiet is broken by a massive explosion. Darnley’s body is found in a nearby field, a cloak, a dagger and, bizarrely, a chair next to the corpse. And there is not a mark to be found on the body.
Enter Nicholas Segalla, a Jesuit priest, sent by Archbishop John Beaton from Paris, to deliver a vital message to Mary. For many forces are gathering against Mary. The lords of Scotland are determined to take the throne from Mary and somewhere, pulling all of the strings, is the Raven Master, who answers to one man – the dreaded Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster of Elizabeth I.
Paul Doherty basically writes three types of books – there are the non-fiction books exploring historical mysteries, such as Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II, the fiction books with an historical background, such as the Hugh Corbett, Brother Athelstan or Judge Amerotke mysteries, and something that comes in between, such as The Death Of A King, exploring a genuine historical mystery while presenting it as a work of fiction.
The Nicholas Segalla adds an extra dimension to this third category. Segalla not only features in the historical story but also in the framing sequence – a sequence set in the present day…
I knew virtually nothing about who Mary, Queen of Scots was. Obviously I knew she was a contemporary and rival of Elizabeth I, but I certainly had never heard about the death of her consort, Darnley. It’s probably a good thing, as not knowing how events played out after the murder helped me keep guessing where the plot was going over the last portion of the book. However, even the practised historian is going to find something here, as Doherty weaves into the story what I presume is his personal theory about what happened at Kirk o’Field in 1567. And, going from the author’s note at the back of the book, the theory that Doherty presents is a convincing one.
Don’t worry about the time-travelling/immortal part of Segalla. It’s really not important to the story and the apparent curse on Segalla is merely hinted at. It impressively adds a slightly spooky air to the proceedings without derailing matters.
So, an excellent analysis of a long-standing true historical mystery while still being a cracking mystery novel in its own right. A difficult trick to pull off, and Doherty does it with aplomb here. I was wary of the premise of the Nicholas Segalla series, but I clearly shouldn’t have been. Highly Recommended.
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Well, my copy had to be imported from a US second-hand bookshop, but as of June 6th, it’ll be released as an ebook, along with a whole slew of other obscurities from Paul Doherty’s back catalogue.