London, 1381. Serjeant Richard Sutler is celebrating the successful prosecution of Lady Isolda Beaumont for the poisoning of her husband, Sir Walter Beaumont. There is one punishment for such a crime – Isolda was burned to death. As Sutler wends his way home, a masked figure throws an oily substance over him and sets it alight. The substance burns hotter than normal oil – Sutler is incinerated by Greek Fire, a secret that Beaumont had stolen and that many people would kill to get their hands on.
As the so-called Ignifier punishes those responsible for Isolda’s execution – each of them reduced to ashes – Brother Athelstan finds himself questionning whether Isolda was truly responsible for her husband’s death. But as the Ignifier turns his sights on Athelstan and the coroner, Sir John Cranston, the friar finds himself faced with a miracle at St Erconwald’s. A man with disfiguring burns collapses during a service and stands up, completely healed. But the secret of Greek Fire is out there – and it seems that the Upright Men, the leaders of the upcoming Peasants’ Revolt, have got their hands on it…
You probably know where this is going. The fourteenth book in a series where I’ve loved every single entry – OK, The Field Of Blood was a little under-par, but I probably need to re-read it – and this is one of the strongest entries in that series. A dark tale, full of unpleasant individuals, horrific deaths and sinister plots, the author’s detailing of London life in the shadow of the Revolt, as well as some of the sharpest plotting that I’ve seen for a while, makes this an engrossing read. He even makes a version of what I think is Agatha Christie’s least convincing trick actually make sense!
As the book progresses, the three main strands – the original murder of Beaumont, the Ignifier and the miracle at St Erconwald’s – reveal some surprising links between them and as we move closer to the actual uprising, the story of the Upright Men – which has been building since Athelstan’s return in Bloodstone – continues apace. I’m curious if Paul has a plan for the actual uprising – given that the King and his retinue were under siege in the Tower of London, there must be a story there – as it’s probably getting to the point where he can’t fit many more cunning murderers into the time-frame.
Regular readers of the blogs will know how much I like Paul’s work so will appreciate what I mean when I say that this is one of the strongest books in the series. In fact, all four recent entries in the series have been outstanding, and I hope Paul continues with the little friar for a long, long time to come. Needless to say, this is Highly Recommended.
This review copy was provided by Severn House and the author. It’s worth pointing out that while it’s going to be a bit pricy when it comes out (30th September in the UK), a) it’s worth it; b) nag your library to get hold of a copy and c) while you’re waiting, the first ten books are available as e-books for a pittance. Reviews of all of them can be found by following the Paul Doherty tab at the top of the page.