December, 1471, the city of Canterbury. A painter, Richard Blunt, stands accused of murdering his young wife and her two lovers. Meanwhile, at The Wicker Man tavern, Reginald Erphingham, tax-collector extraordinaire and all-round bad egg is found poisoned, locked inside his chambers. Given that every guest in the snowbound tavern had reason to hate him, there are plenty of suspects, but with no sign of how the poison was delivered, there is no way to ascertain who did it. A second death soon follows and Kathryn Swinbrooke, the chief physician, and Colum Murtaugh, the King’s Commisioner are faced with a seemingly impossible crime…
OK, how does another Paul Doherty book fit into ‘Nother Chance November? Allow me to (weakly) justify it. This series to date has been merely… good. The impression that the first two books gave me was that they were written in Doherty’s spare time – a shorter page count, a less satisfying plot, less actual historical characters dipping in and out… So it’s been a while since I’ve read one. In fact, that’s not quite true – I’ve started this one a couple of times but got distracted by something more enticing by the end of chapter one. So it seemed like a prime candidate for both my monthly theme and also to perk me up after a long week of work. So, is this more of the same?
This series of books by Doherty, published, I think, only in the US under a pseudonym, has been so far the hardest of his books to track down – certainly the most expensive in cases. So it was a bit disappointing that the first two, A Shrine of Murders and The Eye of God, weren’t up to his usual high standard, at least to me. It was most surprising as the medieval period would seem to be where his strongest books are set, but they were… disappointing.
Things have changed.
This is a bit of a cracker – the central plot wisely takes up much of the page count. The Blunt plot is a bit obvious but doesn’t really get in the way, and another subplot is resolved almost as soon as it arises. The mystery of the murder of Erpingham is very well constructed and very cleverly done. Everything is there to be spotted and despite that, I completely missed it. However… on the off-chance, dear reader, that you’ve read the book, could you explain to me how the door came to be locked and bolted? Bizarrely, this omission (which I think a line of dialogue could have cleared up) doesn’t blow the mystery, as the real question is how the tax collector was poisoned, and that is clear and, as I said, rather clever.
Moreover, I really want to know what happens next in the slow-moving soap opera that is Swinbrooke & co’s lives – rest assured, it won’t be long before the next in the series. Recommended.