In 1669, a man was arrested and housed in a number of jails, including the Bastille. He was in the custody of the same jailer until the prisoner’s death in 1703. He was rarely seen but when he was, he always wore a mask – sometimes made of velvet, sometimes made of iron. And so the stories began…
Ralph Croft is an English rogue whose crimes have caught up with him. Facing execution in the Bastille, he is given a reprieve by the Regent – provided he works with the archivist Maurepas and the musketeer D’Estrivet to find the truth about the now-dead Man In The Iron Mask. But everyone has their own reason for seeking the truth – is it possible that the identity of the prisoner could overthrow the French royal family? And if Ralph finds the truth, can he survive the repercussions?
Paul Doherty has a few different tacks on investigating historical mysteries. One is a straight discussion of the facts – not reviewed any of those yet – another is the Nicholas Segalla series and the other is the style used here, the story of an historical character enlisted to find the truth. There are some excellent entries in this strand – The Fate Of Princes and Dove Amongst The Hawks being my favourites. I’d actually forgotten this one even existed as it’s ebook release was a little later than the mass re-release that occurred a couple of years ago. So when I spotted it the other day as an ebook (and after a quick check it was by the Paul Doherty, rather than the other two historical authors who have the same name (apparently)) I snapped it up – it should fill in the time nicely until The Herald From Hell comes along. Oh, and in other Doherty news, Hugh Corbett will be back soon as well!
Anyway, back to this one. First off, it’s really not a clued mystery in any way, shape or form, but that’s not the point. Instead, this is an investigation into a real historical mystery that most people assume was a) made up by Alexandre Dumas and b) thinks that it begins and ends with the prisoner being the King’s twin brother (which makes absolutely no sense and is quickly dismissed here).
Doherty brings what could be a dull factual tale into a bit of thrilling historical fun. With Croft facing danger as he investigates, looking into the various theories before plumping on Doherty’s personal theory, it adds an extra dimension to the tale – who exactly can Croft trust and why, if the truth is inevitably discovered, was it never exposed to the populace? Croft’s tale holds the whole thing together and it has a truly gob-smacking ending.
So, not a remotely fair-play mystery (although you could make a case that Croft’s story has some aspects of that), but a fascinating look at an historical mystery that I knew little about in the first place. Highly Recommended.