A return to one of the more difficult to obtain series by Paul Doherty, namely the Kathryn Swinbrooke mysteries, set in Canterbury in the immediate aftermath of the Wars of the Roses. As we open this story, Kathryn, a physician and apothecary, has taken the Irishman Colum Murtagh, the King’s representative, as a temporary lodger. She has developed an attraction to him, but this is shadowed by the mystery of the disappearance of her abusive husband. But all of this has to be put to one side when the pair are charged by the King (Edward IV) to find the Eye of God, a valuable relic that was given to a squire by the Earl of Warwick on the battlefield.
The squire, Brandon, was imprisoned in Canterbury, but dies, seemingly of natural causes, whilst his cell-mate escapes, only to be shortly decapitated. A guardsman at the prison apparently hurls himself off a tower where the access is bolted from the roofside. Throughout all of this, no sign is found of the relic. Where is it, and why does Richard of Gloucester want it so much? And who is determined to kill to get their hands on it?
Two books in, and I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t my favourite of Doherty’s series. Canterbury doesn’t seem as alive as, say, Southwark in the Athelstan novels. But I am starting to warm to Kathryn and Colum as the heroes of the piece. After the slow introduction in the first book, the status quo is set now, although the ongoing story of her husband means that their story has some definite progression. The household is developed as well, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of them in the later books.
It’s a rather short book, just under 200 pages, and, given that, it takes a bit of a while to get going. There’s also the distraction of the Irish rebels trying to kill Colum, that’s completely irrelevant to the plot. Some time building up the suspects might have helped, as it falls prey again to fairly undeveloped and seemingly interchangeable characters. However, the locked roof mystery is clever enough, although it takes a fair bit of luck to pull it off – it’s a variant of a very simple device, but I’m not sure it works with trapdoors and bolts very easily! Unusually for Doherty, at least in the ones that I’ve read, the locked room, sorry, locked roof, is crucial to unmasking the killer, on the grounds that once you know how, you also know who, if you know what I mean, so with that in mind, the whole thing is fairly clued. Not convinced about the motive, mind you… It seems a lot of effort for something that might be difficult to get any reward from.
At the end of the day, it all fits together well, and I found myself warming to it as I progressed through the book, but it does still feel like a lesser effort on Doherty’s part. Having said that, it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of some published historical mysteries out there, but I’d recommend his other, more available series first.