A Haunt of Murder by Paul Doherty

Haunt Of Murders.jpgOK, now this one needs a little explanation. Apparently when Chaucer’s pilgrims were on the way to Canterbury, apart from the Canterbury Tales, they also, in the evening, told tales of murder to each other. A Haunt of Murder is The Clerk’s Tale in this category and it’s a little odd. Having so far read from Paul Doherty a few of the Hugh Corbett mysteries and one Brother Athelstan, I was expecting a straightforward murder mystery – nothing in the cover blurb led me to believe otherwise. I certainly wasn’t expecting one of the detective characters to get killed in the first few chapters. Moreover, I certainly wasn’t expecting that, despite this, they would continue to play a major part in the investigations – as a ghost…

Half of the story consists of Ralph, a clerk at the castle of Sir John de Grasse and his hunt for a hidden treasure, a hunt made all the more urgent by the fact that someone else is looking for it – someone who is not afraid to kill to find it (and does rack up quite an impressive body count). The other half is odder, as it concerns Ralph’s beloved (and quickly murdered) Beatrice and her new “life” as a ghost – meeting other ghosts and
deadlier spirits and trying to help Ralph in the process.

It’s certainly not what I was expecting, but Doherty seemingly takes advantage of the fact that this is a story told by Chaucer’s clerk by introducing a supernatural element. I say seemingly, as by the end of the story, it is clearly being presented as fact (including the ghost bits) but by then, I didn’t care.

The ghost bits are fine, if a little odd, and suit the feel of the story. There are a few places where it crosses over into the “real world” story, in particular during a violent exorcism, and by anchoring it thus, it gives it a lot more relevance than it could have. The real world story is excellent – a well-planned mystery with a well-hidden villain, and a very smart use of the ghost story to hide a clue. In fact, there are many parallels between the two worlds, but to say any more would give too many hints as to the big picture.

This one may not be to everyone’s taste, but I enjoyed it a lot and I’ll certainly be trying to find more of these Pilgrim’s Tales. Recommended.

WHERE CAN I FIND THIS?

I got it from my local library – I think it’s still in print, but you’ll probably have to go online to buy a copy.

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10 comments

  1. I like these Canterbury books. Not all of them involve the supernatural, but most do. If you dig in deep enough in the Doherty canon (dare I use that word?) you’ll find that he is equally adept at the supernatural novel. There are no less than three books about Vlad the Impaler and the horrifying cult he developed in medieval Romania, two books about an exorcist in Victorian England, and two others about demonic possession set in medieval times. Of his supernatural mysteries I particularly liked The Haunting (about a ghost chasing priest who is also an exorcist) and An Ancient Evil — part of this Canterbury series and one of the most effective and merciless novels I have ever read about vampires. It does it all without resorting to the obscenely graphic splatterpunk style that repulses me. It’s so frightening that the images in the book gave me nightmares. Pretty potent stuff I’d say.

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    • Thanks for this review as I don’t know the Canterbury series – or these horror ones that John mentions – considering John don’t find Dario Argento’s movies frightening, ‘Ancient Evil’ sounds like one scary book!!

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