“Hell’s own messenger appeared on my ship, a red-haired demon, garbed like a woman with a painted white face. He’s been waiting. Now he has come to take my soul, as he has all the souls who sailed with me.”
Normandy, 1363. France and England were at war, and while battles were fought between the armies and knights of the land, a campaign of terror was also taking place. Worst of these was the crew of the Sans Dieu, the “Godless”, a crew of mercenaries led by a terrifying figure, the Oriflamme.
The Oriflamme, always masked, wearing a woman’s robe with a red wig, was a savage killer, who stalked the French countryside committing atrocity after atrocity. And then the war ended…
Twenty years later, and it seems the Oriflamme has come to London. A warship on the Thames crewed by two of the men of the Godless is destroyed mid-river. The captain is found and as he dies, he explains that somehow the Oriflamme appeared onboard the ship. And this only the beginning of the chaos about to engulf London – chaos that at least one member of Brother Athelstan’s flock will not survive.
The nineteenth Brother Athelstan mystery and while the dust has begun to settle after the Great Revolt, things are hardly peaceful on the streets of London. As Athelstan and Cranston investigate the murders of several ladies of the night – their bodies covered with red wigs and robes like those worn by the Oriflamme – it becomes clear that they are up against one of the most evil and ruthless individuals they have ever encountered.
Paul does an excellent job here of creating a truly terrifying villain – as I said, no-one is safe in this story and after one particular event, I found myself on the edge of my seat when one of my favourite characters comes face-to-mask with the villain in the church of St Erconwald’s.
There is so much going on in this book, and again Paul does a great job of tying the threads together. In some of his earlier books, the subplots were sometimes unrelated to the main story, but here, as in his more recent work, everything dovetails to serve the overall plot. There are plenty of clues and red herrings abounding here, and while I think the Oriflamme’s identity is guessable – an additional red herring suspect might have helped – it would take someone much smarter than me to put everything together.
An atmospheric mystery, full of the visceral image of history that proliferates his work, combined with a gripping plot – another absolutely cracking read from Paul. If you haven’t tried this series, then just dive in anywhere – if you’ve been burned by other historical crime solving monks, then why not give this friar a go?
Many thanks to Severn House for the review copy. The Godless is released in the UK on December 28th.