And so to the last medieval historical novel for a while before I launch into my series on historical mysteries set in the Ancient World. Ancient Assassinations? Can anyone think of a better title than that?
But I digress. In the fourth of the series of seven, Kathryn Swinbrooke, chief apothecary and general mystery solver of Canterbury on the reign of Edward IV, is tasked to solve two mysteries linked by black magic. First, a curse from a wise woman/healer/witch has seemingly caused a landlord to fall down a flight of stairs to his death. The second is slightly more complicated – Tenebrae, a dark wizard and keeper of all sorts of secrets, has been entertaining a stream of clients, giving them his dark insights into their future. After the last one leaves, he locks his room from the inside… you can guess the next bit. When the door is broken down, he’s dead from a crossbow bolt in the chest…
As the investigation continues, as do the deaths, it becomes apparent that there is more to Tenebrae than his claims of wizardry. He is the keeper of the Book Of Shadows, a grimoire containing the secrets of all sorts of people, including the Queen herself… and the book has vanished.
So, a quick reminder. This series, from Paul Doherty masquerading as C L Grace, was published, I think, only in the US. The books are generally shorter than his other works, kicking in at about 190 pages each, and there is a slightly greater emphasis on the personal life of the protagonists – not exactly will they, won’t they, but more when will they? But first and foremost, they are murder mysteries, and this one has a classic locked room setting.
Admittedly, it’s not the most complicated, and I think if you put your mind to it, it’s not that complicated to solve. There were echoes here of an Agatha Christie book that I won’t name, that, if you spot it, should put you on the right track.
Overall, I can’t fault this one at all. While it’s not the deepest problem to solve – indeed the “curse” mystery is very obvious – everything keeps moving along nicely. In fact, the thing that impressed me most about this book is, given its general shortness, the level of characterisation on display here. I can’t go into why this works so well here, given the non-spoiler rule, but I found the denouement of both crimes very well done – for different reasons as well.
Overall, while this is never going to rank as a classic of crime fiction, it’s an entertaining read and a nice puzzle. And a little more is layered on to the life of Kathryn Swinbrooke, for those who have been following the series. Recommended.
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
I was hoping that it would be part of the mass release of Paul Doherty ebooks but there’s no sign of it yet. Probably one for the completists via second hand merchants, but you be lucky to find a copy for less than a tenner.