Canterbury, 1473. Sir Walter Maltravers is tormented by ghosts from his past – both recent, in the Battle of Towton in the Wars Of The Roses, and the past, in the fall of Constantinople. When a precious relic that he retrieved from the city, the Lacrima Christi, vanishes from a Franciscan monastery, he is concerned – but not for long. On his weekly penance, crawling on his knees to the centre of a maze that only he knows the secret of, he meets his murderer – who takes Maltravers’ head from his shoulders. When the body is located – by climbing over the hedges with much difficulty, the head has been taken – but no-one has entered or left the maze.
Kathryn Swinbrooke and her fiancé, Colum Murtagh, are tasked with finding the relic and the killer. But despite worrying undertones in Ingoldby Hall, Maltravers’ estate, it seems that everyone has an alibi – and the death count, as usually happens in one of Paul Doherty’s books, is rapidly rising.
This series – initially published under the pseudonym C L Grace, now available as an ebook – startly relatively weakly but improved a lot with the third book, The Merchant of Death. It’s never of the high standard of the Hugh Corbett or Brother Athelstan series from the same author, but they’re good reads nonetheless.
This one rattles along nicely – there’s some good puzzles presented, with a variety of suspects, and Kathryn and her surrounding family and friends are a well-constructed group. The central relationship between Kathryn and Colm bubbles along nicely – preparations are underway for their wedding but the shadow of her (dead?) first husband is still plaguing her (a bit).
What undermines this one a bit is the solution to the mystery. Doherty uses one of the oldest “tricks” in the book. Admittedly, it’s not the whole picture, but it puts a massive arrow pointing at one of the characters. On top of that, one of the alibis, presented as being completely solid, turns out to be so incredibly weak that you can’t see why anyone would believe it was worth anything. And has no one used the “follow the left hand wall” to get round a maze trick?
So, a decent read – points for ambition, if not necessarily for execution – and at least, unlike many other books presented as “mysteries”, the reader is encouraged to play along. The solution, if you can turn a blind eye to the wonky alibi, is nicely complex, and there are some tense scenes along the way. Recommended, but probably best to read the series in order – they’re all available as ebooks now.