And, after a very careful count, we come to my 99th book review of my first year of my blog – and it’s those men again – Brother Athelstan, Sir John Cranston and, of course, Paul Doherty. I’m trying to space out my reviews of his books for fear of making my blog a bit repetitive, but as I’ve a genuine first (for me at least) for my 100th review, I’ve brought this one forward.
So, what do we have this time? Those damnable Frenchies are at it again – after a number of raids on shipping and along the English South Coast, the regent John of Gaunt has finally created a navy of sorts, charged with defending the coast and the Thames. And if they happen to sink a few French ships after stealing their cargo, what’s wrong with that? The God’s Bright Light, a member of the fleet is moored in the Thames, but all manner of mysteries surround it. How did its captain, the piratical Roffel, die? Who killed the ship’s sponsor, Sir Henry Ospring? And how did the first mate and two watchmen disappear without trace from the ship in the middle of the night?
Athelstan and Cranston are charged to investigate the crimes – but when the victims were disliked by everyone who met them, the list of suspects grows longer and longer…
It’s the winter of 1379, and there are, as usual, other bits and bobs to sort out. Most notably, there has been a series of impossible thefts where the upstairs of a rich tradesman’s house has been robbed without disturbing the ground floor, while all of the windows were locked from the inside.
Right, where to start with this one? For once, I’m going to start with the negatives.
The robbery storyline isn’t great. It’s a simple solution and one scene, featuring the villain of this part of the book, is rather odd as it gives the villain a much grander appearance and motivation than he/she actually has. The main problem is that it would make a great short story, but it just feels tacked on to the main plot to up the page count. I don’t see any thematic links to the main plot and it distracted me a little.
OK, I said negatives in the plural. Don’t know what I was thinking there…
The main plot is excellent – one of Doherty’s best. There’s a lot going on here and I can almost guarantee you that you’ll be looking the wrong way when the murderer is unmasked. In particular, there’s one piece of factual information that turns the whole case on its head that is so clever in its simplicity in the way that something you might assume is proved to be false. I really can’t say any more here without blowing an important plot point.
You may assume the usual praise for Doherty’s characters and descriptions of 14th century London. I should probably write a standard paragraph and just cut and paste it into all the Athelstan reviews.
Oh, thought of another negative. No author’s note indicating the factual nature of the battle on the River Thames that occurs near the conclusion. Might be nice to have had a few facts about the pirate Eustace the Monk as well. NB A quick Google search reveals that Eustace is about 150 years out of his time here and no reference to the river battle, but if anyone knows any different, I’d love to know.
So, a fantastic central mystery marred only slightly by the unnecessary theft storyline – although credit to Doherty for not unnecessarily padding the main story to get the page-count up. Recommended and coming soon to an ebook reader near you.