Dark Queen Rising by Paul Doherty

1471, England, and the kingdom is in uproar, mostly concerning whose kingdom it actually is. Edward IV has finally triumphed over the forces of Henry VI, despite the ailing monarch having been locked in the Tower for a while, with his Queen, Margaret of Anjou finally captured. But Edward’s position is not secure – his brother the Duke of Clarence plots in the shadows and as for his brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester… well, I’ve a hunch you know where he eventually ends up.

The last remaining hope for the House of Lancaster is Margaret Beaufort and her son, Henry Tudor, but even survival looks to be an issue, let alone rising to power once again. As all sides try and position themselves for an advantage, it falls to Margaret and her clerk, Christopher Urswicke to try and turn a near-hopeless situation to their advantage. But when murder (eventually) strikes, it falls to Ulswicke to find the truth. But does anyone actually want to know the truth or is this just another round in the games of power that are taking place?

A new series for Paul Doherty – it’s out today in the UK, but Amazon seem to think it’s out of stock, which I guess mean strong pre-sales – and we’re heading to that magnet of British history, the Tudors. Well, the eve of the Tudors I suppose. As with Michael Jecks’ Jack Blackjack series, Paul has slotted into a period that should interest readers who are fond of the tales of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, in this case the last hurrah of the Wars of the Roses that lead to Henry’s father seizing the throne, and hence mining a seam of mostly untold tales, especially in the historical mystery genre. Having said that, Paul’s own Kathryn Swinbrooke series is set in the same era (but away from the politics) and he wrote a standalone concerning the death of Henry VI, Dove Amongst The Hawks, that I highly recommend.

As for the focus, he couldn’t have picked a more fascinating character that Margaret Beaufort. Seriously, check her out on Wikipedia. The things that she did to both stay alive and stay influential… well, there’s certainly more than one story here. Urswicke, too, as our sleuth, also a real character, is an interesting lead, loyal to Margaret (or is he playing her), he was possibly the founder of the British Secret Service but there’s much less information about him on the internet – so I guess he did a pretty good job. As his machinations progress, Paul does a great job at keeping them deliciously convoluted while never losing the reader as to who is playing who and at what.

Some readers might be put off by the pacing of the book. The opening chapter has a lot of information about the status of the numerous characters and I did find myself checking the cast of characters a few times as it progressed to remind myself who was who and how they were related to each other, but it soon settles down into what is for the first half of the book, political intrigue. Gripping and fascinating, but it takes a while for the murder – four men, slit throats, door locked from the inside – to take place. Having said that, I didn’t have an issue with it, as at that point (not a blurb reader) I’d figured that it wasn’t going to be a murder mystery per se, but readers who did read the blurb (which mentions the killings the focus of the tale) should be warned. Paul weaves the murders into the conspiracy plotting beautifully and by that point, I was completely gripped by the tale.

It’s an immensely satisfying take on an area of history that I don’t know enough about. Paul takes a number of real events and weaves a story around them that once it has hooked the reader, never lets them go. For fans of historical mysteries, this is Highly Recommended.

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