At the end of the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV is triumphant over Henry and Margaret and Canterbury, supporters of the losing Lancastrian side is in turmoil. The upheaval isn’t helped by the presence of a poisoner, preying on pilgrims heading for Thomas a Becket’s tomb.
Kathryn Swinbrooke, a local herbalist and physician, is asked by the town officials to investigate – the murderer, known to be a man, is an expert in poisons and she is deemed to be the only expert known to be innocent. With the assistance of Colum Murtagh, an Irish soldier fresh from the Wars, and Thomasina, her long-serving maidservant, she investigates the crime – at the same time, however, she is hiding a dark secret concerning the fate of her missing husband and has to contend with someone blackmailing her.
This is the first book by C L Grace featuring Swinbrooke… oh, I give up. It’s Paul Doherty again, with another of his pseudonyms. So, what’s this series like then?
It’s worth having a look at what else Doherty was writing at this time. The Roger Shallot series had just reached The Poisoned Chalice, the Hugh Corbett series had reached The Assassin In The Greenwood and the Athelstan had just reached Murder Most Holy. All three of these are first rate examples of Doherty’s work, so it’s odd that this one is a bit… flat, I suppose.
It might be that this suffers from the same problem as some of the introductory books for the series. It takes a while for Kathryn to get over the issues with her husband, and similarly it takes a little while to gel with Colum, clearly the primary supporting in the series, and as such it feels a little like treading water a little at the start of the book. But for whatever reason, the descriptions didn’t leap off the page as they normally do – Canterbury felt a little flat.
Also, unlike most of Doherty’s other books, there is only one murder plot, and the blackmail plot is pretty empty, serving really to showcase the character of Thomasina. The murder plot is good, and contains some decent clues, although you need to have read Chaucer’s great work to spot the main one. But there’s something about the book that really gets to me, and do forgive me if this seems a little irrational…
The font’s weird. It’s a very round font, like Georgia, and for some reason, it really annoys me. It feels like reading a large-print book. I know that’s a completely irrational reason to dislike a book, but there you go.
Sorry – back to the book. There are seven of these, from 1993 to 2004, and for whatever reason, they only seem to have been published in the US, and then only in hardback. On the strength of the first one, I’d say that it’s for Doherty completists only – the lead characters – female detective and soldier assistant are similar to those in the Ancient Rome series, which I thought was much better [although the Head of Classics at my school has described them as “a bit simple”]. Fingers crossed this series picks up now that the characters are in place…