1302, London, and it seems a maniac is slitting the throats of the local ladies of dubious repute. On the thirteenth of the month, for over a year, a prostitute has been found dead. Things escalate when Lady Somerville, one of the Sisters of St Martha, a charitable organisation that tries to help such women is found dead in a similar way. Also Father Benedict of Westminster, the meeting place of the sisters is found burned to death locked inside his house. The only witness is a mad beggar who saw the murderer – a cowled monk.
Add in the fact that there’s also an English master criminal (and, naturally, a master of disguise), Richard Puddlicot, running around in the background and de Craon is also up to his usual tricks on behalf of Philip IV of France and the newly knighted Sir Hugh Corbett has his hands full. As usual.
Regular readers will have noticed that I was less than impressed with the last two books I reviewed, so naturally I reached for the literary comfort blanket of Dr Paul Doherty, choosing to continue with the adventures of Hugh Corbett. The last book in the series that I read, The Prince of Darkness, was excellent, and I’m pleased to say this continues in the same vein.
One of the high spots of this one – apart from the usual excellent writing, evoking the past that you can almost (but thankfully can’t) smell fourteenth century London – is the nature of the mystery. Anyone who has read enough detective fiction knows that when a serial killer suddenly changes targets, there’s a good chance that in fact a second killer has shown up, and Doherty uses that ambiguity – how many villains are we looking for, exactly, pretty well.
With a number of balls in the air, Doherty manages to dovetail everything very nicely together and the book is an excellent read. For a reader of the series, one of the more satisfying parts is the character of Ranulf, Corbett’s servant, who starts coming into his own now. Having seen the lives outside the bedroom of the ladies he has repeatedly frequent, and also falling in love with a Lady, he decides that it is time to better himself. How he starts to go about it… well, I’m pretty sure that Corbett is going to have words with him at some point. This transformation from a boozy, lusty child into a rather devious, brutal young man is handled very well and I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.
I must mention (again) the cluing. It’s another “the only thing that makes sense” solution rather than a clued one, which is not a bad thing in such an entertaining story, but there is a massive cheat. It’s due to one of those scenes where the detective leaves a meeting thinking “there was something wrong there, but I’ll have to think about it later” and then reveals the critical fact that Mr Badguy had one ear rather than the usual two meaning he was the killer. That’s all well and good, but you really need to have the information that the detective failed to spot available to the reader in that initial scene. Very naughty – I went back to check and there was no mention of the critical fact. Oh, and there’s an offhand spoiler for Satan in St Mary’s. Is there a Hugh Corbett tale that doesn’t spoil that book?
Anyway, that’s a minor gripe. Before I go though, another of the many reasons that I love Dr Doherty’s work so much. In the previous book that I read, Mourn Not Your Dead, there were about four major events, spread out over 350 pages. As I said in the review, slow. In this book, for a smaller page count, the developments never seem to stop. It’s a real page turner and I had to force myself to put it down last night or I’d have had a ludicrously late night. Needless to say, I had an early morning instead!
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Good luck finding a copy of this one – don’t think it’s in print but there are loads of cheap copies on Abebooks or Ebay. Definitely worth a look.