It’s 1521, Henry VIII is on the throne – married to Catherine of Aragorn but certainly his roving eye is looking elsewhere. Roger Shallot, and his master, Benjamin Daunbey, are dragged into Henry’s affairs of state, as they are sent to France to search out a spy in the English embassy in Paris. The chief secretary of the embassy has been killed while alone of the roof of a tower – a locked-roof mystery? – and a priest of a nearby church has been found drowned in his fish pond.
Shallot has unwisely incurred the wrath of Henry, the Great Killer, and he is given an additional mission on pain of death – retrieve a valuable ring that once belonged to the king. The only slight problem – it is permanently being worn by Francis – the King of France himself.
As with his previous outing, The White Rose Murders, this is taken directly from the journals of Roger Shallot, who is not the most reliable narrator – his asides about the “truth” behind certain – actually, most – historical events of the era. But how does this measure up to that excellent tale?
Very well, in fact. Shallot is such an engaging narrator – his digressions are genuinely amusing – apparently it was a drunken Shallot who accidentally left a gate open and lost Calais to the French – and the fact that he’s not the most honest character in the world helps differentiate this from Dr Doherty’s other work. In fact, it makes sense that this was original produced under a pseudonym, as it is quite a different voice to the rest.
At the heart of the book though, is a cracking little mystery. It does take a little while to get going, but as in the best traditions of classic mysteries, there is a finite set of suspects, a bunch of red herrings, there’s only one solution that makes sense and there’s even at least one clue! Add to that attempted murder by leopard and you’ve an excellent Tudor adventure.
I’ve mentioned Doherty’s clueing before, as he seems to favour the “one solution that makes sense” school of mysteries. The clue here comes very late, but it did for me seem a bit obvious and contrived, and certainly indicated the killer pretty quickly to me. The how and why was still a revelation – the motive in particular is particularly effective – and this is an absolute corker of a book.
The other thing the book does is remind you that there was a lot more to Henry VIII than simply the six wives business. Shallot happily talks about things later on in Henry’s reign, such as the dissolution of the monasteries, and you really get a feel for the character of the King, albeit filtered through Shallot’s somewhat untrustworthy eyes.
If I had a criticism – something Shallot talks about in the preamble, and something else about the book, does hint at part of the solution perhaps a little too much. But I’m dopey and only realised this in hindsight, so maybe it’s not an issue at all.
Anyway, good luck finding a copy of this – there are a few cheap ones on Abebooks or eBay – don’t forget to try both authors’ names.