We return to the previously untold tales of Chaucer’s pilgrims with the fourth in the series, as told to the travellers by the Poor Priest. It’s the tale of a young priest (guess who?) and his brother and their attempts to thwart the curse that seems to plague the village of Scawsby in Kent. It seems that years earlier, a group of Templars, fleeing Edward II’s persecution, were massacred by some locals. Now ghosts, both of the Templars and other, more sinister, figures stalk the night – can Philip lay these ghosts to rest or will he become part of the ongoing tragedy?
As I’ve mentioned before, this is the series from Paul Doherty that I’m rather unsure about. The nature of the stories is very varied, from supernatural (An Ancient Evil and A Haunt of Murder), possibly supernatural (A Tournament of Murders) and not remotely supernatural (A Tapestry of Murders). I absolutely loved A Haunt of Murder, the first that I read, and the other three have their strengths, but I still find it hard to decide if I actually like this series or not. So, will this book help me make up my mind?
First of all, let me remind you of the set-up. Chaucer’s pilgrims, along with the tales that he wrote down, also told each other tales of villainy and murder to pass the evenings on the way to Canterbury. Inevitably, the teller of the tale is in some way involved in the story (mostly in an obvious way, with the exception of Tournament), and others in the room tend to either know something about the story or were actually there. In the meantime, the fall-out from An Ancient Evil, aka The Knight’s Tale, bubbles away in the background.
I really like these bits – they add an extra level of intrigue to the story, although they rarely contain a surprise. It is usually clear who the other pilgrims involved are in the story, but it adds some nice atmosphere by hinting at the tragedies that may occur at the end of the tale. But they’re not enough to make a good story by themselves. And it’s here where I thought Ghostly Murders fell down. And fell down rather badly for me.
It’s a ghost story, first and foremost, best read under the duvet with a torch. There are numerous ghosts on the prowl, most notably the evil ex-priest Romanel, who has a habit of turning up out of nowhere. By the way, this is never presented as a possible Scooby Doo scenario, unlike the ghostly knight in the previous book. It’s made clear that Romanel is a ghost – and not a nice one at that.
For all I know, this is a decent ghost story – I wouldn’t know though, as I don’t read ghost stories. Due to a busy work schedule at the moment, I’ve been reading it in exceptionally small chunks as well, and this did a very good job at deflating any atmosphere that might have built up. So this might be an effective spine-tingler if read in one sitting, but it didn’t particularly scare me. The fact that I found the rest of the book a bit boring didn’t help.
You see, it may have escaped your notice, but I read mysteries and, with the exception of where some treasure is hidden and some motivations from the past, there isn’t much of a mystery here. There’s one present-day death, but it’s not murder, and while some characters are a bit misguided, they don’t really do anything. It’s one of those stories where a protagonist investigates a crime in the distant past, and they never really appeal to me.
So, to sum up, not my cup of tea, really. I wasn’t reading it in the best of circumstances – if you want a second opinion, then check out Patrick’s review of it here. In fact, I encourage you to do so, as it almost seems that we read two different books. Maybe if it had been my primary focus, then I’d have thought better of it, but I’m not convinced.