1311, and Sir Hugh Corbett returns to Alnwick, Northumberland, the scene of one of the most terrible acts of war in the reign of Edward I, an act that Hugh was a first-hand witness to. But Hugh has been charged to return to oversee an exchange of hostages with Robert Bruce, the King of Scotland, but he has other, more secretive, business to attend to as well.
It is not Scotland, however, where the danger lies. Before he can reach Alnwick, Corbett’s party is attacked by soldiers under the command of Edmund Darel, a local lord, allied with a group of dark Satanists, the Black Chesters, and one of Corbett’s hostages lies dead, poisoned by an unseen hand. With traitors lurking in the shadows and dark forces arming against him, it seems that this time, Sir Hugh Corbett may not have a way out…
The Hugh Corbett series hits book nineteen (and two novellas, both of which are worth checking out – The Peacock’s Cry and The King’s Writ) and it continues its magnificent vein of form. A book that is, at times, deeply chilling, with the rites of the Black Chesters alongside the punishments that are meted out by the characters that are supposed to be the “goodies”, and perplexing with an intricate plot dealing with both the political intrigue of the time and a cunning murder who can kill without trace.
The prime example of this is when two of Darel’s inner circle are hung in cages from the battlements of Alnwick Castle, healthy when placed in the cages, clearly not suicidal, but then are struck down with poison when nobody goes near them. It’s a beautifully simple method of murder that I don’t recall seeing before, and I’ve read a lot of impossible poisonings.
Some of [the attackers] tried to hide, only to be dragged out and decapitated, their heads sent bouncing across the cobbles, their upright torsos spouting a rich red fountain until they toppled over and the blood continued to flow in streams across the cobbles.
As you can probably guess, I utterly loved this book. The evocative descriptions, the window on an uncommonly told piece of history (along with a surprisingly sympathetic approach to Edward II and Peter Gaveston), a complex mystery, a plot that keeps moving forward in surprising ways and a chilling final page. One of the very best from one of my favourite authors. Massively Recommended.