Spies abound in the streets of Paris – Philip IV of France is planning an invasion of Flanders, one of England’s allies, and the chase is on to find out exactly where Philip is going to attack. Meanwhile, near Nottingham, a tax collector and his retinue are attacked by the infamous wolfshead, Robin Hood. The tax collector stumbles back to Nottingham a complete wreck – his fingers may have been removed, but at least he is still alive unlike the rest of his men.
Sir Hugh Corbett, the Keeper of the King’s Seal, Edward I’s spymaster, is in Nottingham having been sent by the King to find out what has happened to Robin of Locksley – he had earned the King’s pardon but now seems more merciless than ever. The Sheriff, Sir Eustace Verney, lies dead in his bedchamber, poisoned, despite no poison being present, and Locksley is taking credit for the impossible murder. As the body count rises, Sir Hugh finds himself in a race to discover not just Philip’s plans but also get to the bottom of Sir Eustace’s murder. But can he do both (or either) of those things before the French assassin sent by Philip catches up with him?
Those of you with long memories will recall that I’ve reviewed this before. It’s the seventh book from Paul Doherty featuring Sir Hugh Corbett, his longest running sleuth, set in the time of Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, one of the most influential Kings of England, whose “good” work was undermined by his son, Edward II, when he took the throne. It’s a fascinating piece of history, partly because there was so much going on, both nationally and in Europe, but also because generally speaking, we don’t learn about it at school. Basically, ask anyone about it and it’s 90% shrugging and 10% “is he the one with the poker up his bum?” It’s far less glamourous than the Tudors, but a damn sight more interesting to me.
So why am I reading it again? Well why not, my blog, my rules. But seriously, for the first time, I’d just read from cover to cover a book that I’m not going to review. An historical mystery set in another era that I have an interest in and it was just didn’t work for me. The fact that the history element overpowered the very slight murder mystery, the book never seemed to settle on one idea, culminating in a very odd sex scene. I was hoping to have discovered a new historical author, but instead ended up heading back to my first blog obsession – Paul Doherty.
In the early days of the blog, you couldn’t move for Doherty reviews. Well chosen periods of history, endearing characters, beautiful descriptions bringing the world to life and twisty, turny plots often incorporating locked room mysteries. I was really happy to provide the entry in Brian Skupin’s Locked Room Supplement on Paul’s work – it stretches to seven pages, and I’m sure I missed a couple out. I’ve said this before and no doubt I’ll say it again – if you’ve been put off historical mysteries by Brother you-know-who, then why not try again with an author who puts the mystery first?
This isn’t the best in the series, but it’s still a damn good read. The first chapter in Paris sets the scene beautifully as Ranulph, Sir Hugh’s sidekick escapes some French spies, but not before having to give a mercy killing to his associate – it sets out his character perfectly and keeps the reader turning the pages.
Yes, you can argue that Paul’s use of Robin Hood is misdated, but he does provide his evidence for the choice – it wasn’t done on a whim. The locked room is simple but clever, and plays fair, and while the truth is perhaps a little obvious this time as to what is going on, there are plenty of surprises along the way – the element dealing with the French assassin is rather marvellous.
Focussing on reading isn’t that easy at the moment, especially with a sub-par book. But this is an absolute cracker, and don’t be surprised if I revisit other old favourites in the weeks ahead. So if you want a mystery author to binge on in these troubled times, may I recommend to you Paul Doherty? The Hugh Corbett books (start at Book Five, The Prince Of Darkness) are currently only a quid or two on ebook – unfortunately/fortunately the Brother Athelstan books, my favourite series, are getting a relaunch on April 27th (nice of Paul to schedule it for my birthday) so they’re currently unavailable – but most of the rest of his books are very cheap. If I had to pick one to start with, try The Treason Of The Ghosts, one of the Times’ best crime novels of 2000, with good reason. Enjoy!