It’s 1284 and Edward I is on the throne of England. Although Simon De Montfort’s rebellion may be over, Edward is concerned about his surviving supporters. When Lawrence Duket is found dead, an apparent suicide, inside a church that has been sealed from the inside, Edward orders Hugh Corbett, a clerk, to investigate. But there are more than rebels to deal with, as the devil-worshipping Pentangle association is also plotting against the King. What can one man do?
This is the first of the seventeen (and hopefully rising) books featuring Hugh Corbett and it very much reads as an origin story. We get a lot of backstory to Corbett (which isn’t even hinted at in the later books that I have read so far – see here and here) and also learn how he allies himself with Ranulf-atte-Newgate, his manservant. But as with so many first novels, is it any good?
First of all, I must mention Doherty’s descriptions of 13th century London – it brings it to life in wonderfully disgusting detail. As a brief snapshot of history, it is almost mesmerising – you might need a shower after reading some of the passages of everyday streetlife.
Plotwise, there are a few strands going on here – apart from the “suicide”, there’s also a few conspiracies to sort out and a spy to unmask, and Hugh still times to fall in love for the first time since his wife and child died of the plague. None of the mysteries are remarkably deep or particularly surprising in their resolution and if you’re looking for a classic locked-room mystery, look elsewhere as the resolution to this is too simple to be particularly interesting – Doherty will do much better in this aspect in later books.
It is rather a short book – about 180 pages – and crams an awful lot in. In terms of character, description and backstory for Corbett, it is recommended strongly. But if first and foremost you want a good mystery, I’d try something else in the series first.
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Well, I don’t think it’s out of print but I think you’ll need to go online to get it.
I’ve set up a basic bibliography for Paul Doherty’s books here – by no means complete, but concentrating on the series that I’m following currently.