Edward I is struggling against his enemies. He has lost Gascony to Philip of France and there are rumblings of rebellion in Wales and Scotland. But there is a more immediate danger – Edward’s primary spy in Paris has been assassinated and a secret mission to retrieve information from Gascony has been intercepted. Someone in Edward’s inner circle is passing information to his enemies. Hugh Corbett is summoned to investigate – but with enemies everywhere, can he survive two trips to Paris and another to Wales and unmask the traitor?
Paul Doherty’s early entries in the Hugh Corbett series continue to be set around factual events. Crown in Darkness was set around the real death of Alexander III and, for Spy in Chancery, there was a real spy. If you’re an expert in Edward, by the way, you might even know who the spy is – Doherty hasn’t changed any names and with a quick check in Marc Morris’s A Great and Terrible King – recommended, by the way – gives you the name of the traitor. I’m fairly sure that most readers won’t know it though.
Anyway, back to the story. As with Crown In Darkness, this is something of a travelogue – we start with a trip to Paris, then off to Wales, then back to Paris again. It’s like the medieval equivalent of a James Bond adventure, although taking a much slower pace, given how long each trip takes and how long Corbett stays in each place – in Wales, for example, where he is searching for evidence of a traitor in the estate of Morgan, a treacherous Welsh Lord, he stays for a number of weeks. It does seem to remove a sense of urgency from the tale, and there are times when the adventure does take precedence over the mystery.
As the story progresses, certainly in the last act, there are clues pointing to the who and there is some real cleverness in part of the how – simple, but clever. The book doesn’t outstay its welcome, coming in at about 180 pages, so it’s a quick read. It’s certainly entertaining, but it’s not as clever as the later books by the author that I’ve read.
In terms of Corbett, his general unhappiness at being given these tasks is apparent, as is his pleasure at outwitting the French de Craon again, but his story continues to develop as he gains another member of his supporting cast, Maeve, although what she sees in the grumpy old so-and-so is beyond me.
So, it’s a nice quick read, but I don’t think it’s an essential part of the Corbett series. Keep reading the blog, as we’re having a mini-Corbett season as part of Paul Doherty Week. Next up, The Angel of Death.