Candle Flame by Paul Doherty

Candle FlameSouthwark, February 1381. Very precise with the date there, as people with a good knowledge of medieval history will know that this is the year when the Peasants’ Revolt is on the verge of breakout across England and London in particular. The Upright Men, the leaders of the Great Community, are making plans, and their footsoldiers are attacking the servants of John of Gaunt, the Regent of the realm.

At the Candle-Flame tavern, on the banks of the Thames in Southwark, Edmund Marsen, one of Gaunt’s primary tax-collectors, is staying in the fortress-like Barbican. On the morning of the 14th of February, the alarm is raised as two guards are found outside, murdered at their posts. The Barbican itself is locked from the inside, but when the doors are broken down, seven more bodies lie inside – and Marsen’s treasure chest lies open and empty. Is this the work of the Upright Men, or Beowulf, the assassin who seemingly shares their beliefs? Or the spy who seems to be staying in the tavern? Or someone with a different reason to hate Marsen? For as the truth begins to form, it seems that Marsen had a lot of enemies – and some of them were very close to him that night…

Book Thirteen of the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, probably my favourite of Paul Doherty’s series – sorry, Hugh Corbett. I’d say that only one of the books disappointed me a little, but I read that one out of order and it’s top of my list for whenever I decide to re-read something. It’s a series that started strong with The Nightingale Gallery and has stayed strong ever since. Despite an eight-year hiatus, this is the third one since its return via Severn House Publishing.

Since the return (in Bloodstone and The Straw Men), the Peasants’ Revolt is growing closer and closer, and the picture of London being presented is getting grimmer and grimmer. The writing on the wall is clearly visible and people are making preparations – Sir John Cranston, the coroner, is taking things much more seriously, and has sent his family to the countryside, while the more affluent members of society are deciding where to lay their allegiances. It’s clear that London is going to burn and no one is sure who or what will be left standing…

It’s a powerful setting for the tale and the author makes full use of it, both in atmosphere and in utilising it for possible motivations for the various crimes, giving a fresh slant to the series. Athelstan himself seems to be getting wearier of all of the death around him, and Doherty makes some very sensible choices regarding Athelstan’s flock and the Great Community. There’s no way that the characters we’ve been following for all this time would be untouched by the uprising and there are some shocks, with the hint of more to come – when a character that we know suddenly starts laughing at… something, it’s really quite disturbing with the definite suggestion of something nasty happening in the future.

The mysteries – of which there are three main threads – weave together nicely. The suspects are distinct and well thought out and there’s enough going on that while you’ll spot bits and pieces of the truth, I doubt anyone would unravel the whole picture. But as Athelstan explains everything, it’s clear that is a clue pointing towards each bit of the truth. You just probably won’t spot them, that’s all. Oh, and the locked room is one of those simple-but-clever ones. Not desperately innovative, but very well-constructed.

This review copy was provided by Severn House and the book is released on March 27th. As I’ve mentioned before, Severn House publish primarily for libraries, so it’s not cheap at the moment, but there’ll be a reasonably priced ebook in the future. Still, if you like the series (and you can try others for a pittance as ebooks) it’s definitely worth it. Most Highly Recommended – the March Book Of The Month nightmare continues…


  1. This is a rewrite of THE GODLESS MAN! The basic plot is exactly the same: locked room, guards outside slain, all eight people inside the room also killed, and a treasure stolen from the room. There’s even an spy/assasin called the Centaur in THE GODLESS MAN who is suspected of the crimes. Unreal. No wonder Doherty is so prolific. He does just what John Creasey did — recycles all his plots.


    • Well, having read both books, this is not the same plot, not the same solution – apart from the very basic one-sentence description of the set up, it’s not the same book at all. In fact, I don’t recall any two books by Paul Doherty where I’ve thought one was a re-hash of another.

      Just to check – are you assuming this from my description of the plot, or have you read Candle Flame as well?


  2. Nightmare continues? There is no doubt in my mind which book should be the book of the month.
    But, after all, this is your blog and it is for you to decide.


    • To be honest, the only people who can really argue my choice are people who’ve read every book on my monthly reading list – and given that, within the realm of crime fiction, it’s a pretty eclectic selection, I can probably count those people on the fingers of one foot.

      But this month’s Puzzly will contain a discussion/explanation of why it’s not going to The Judas Window… if it doesn’t go to that one of course – I’d hate to spoil the surprise!


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