The Herald Of Hell by Paul Doherty

Herald Of HellLondon, May 1381, and the Great Uprising, the Peasants’ Revolt, is nigh. As the Upright Men move their foot-soldiers into position and John of Gaunt seeks to turn matters to his benefit, the Herald of Hell is stalking the streets. Pronouncing doom and destruction to those loyal to King Richard II, he strikes fear into the populace. And when he threatens Amaury Whitfield, clerk to Thibert, Gaunt’s Master of Secrets, he starts a chain of events that will have far-reaching consequences…

Did Whitfield, terrified by the Herald’s pronouncements, really hang himself in the upstairs chamber of the Golden Oliphant, a Southwark brothel? Brother Athelstan, conscripted to find the truth by Thibert, has his doubts. But how could a murderer pass through a locked door and kill the terrified Whitfield without leaving a mark on his body? What is the secret of the cipher that Whitfield was carrying? Why was Whitfield helping out with a treasure hunt when he was in fear for his life? And with the city about to erupt into violence, will anyone be safe from the Upright Men?

Ever since Paul Doherty returned to Brother Athelstan with Bloodstone in 2011, the Great Uprising, something that had been hinted at in the earlier books, has been becoming more and more of a plot point. The Upright Men, including some of Athelstan’s own parishioners, have been an important part of the tale and the picture of London, as vivid as it ever is from Paul’s pen has been subtly changing into a darker, more fearful place. And it was never that pretty a place to begin with.

Regular readers will know I like my historical mysteries, especially those set in the medieval period – the Hugh Corbett (who’s returning soon, by the way) and Athelstan books from Paul and the Templar Mysteries from Michael Jecks are some of my favourite mysteries and I’m always disappointed that they never seem to get the same attention as modern day crime books, despite their meticulously constructed plots. Never more so, in fact, than here, where the first half of the book simply raises question after question – Whitfield’s behaviour (and his interestingly named associate) seems to be full of contradictions. Athelstan explains most of it about halfway through, making the mysterious seem obvious (as the best mysteries always should) while still leaving the big picture shrouded in mystery. The locked room is played perfectly fairly – it’s a gambit that I’ve seen variations of before, but Paul hides it extremely well – and the murder plot (needless to say, there’s a few more deaths before the day is out) is woven seamlessly into the other strands of the story. It would have been very easy to turn the tale into an historical story about the Revolt, but Paul never forgets that the reader is looking for a clever mystery and that is exactly what he delivers. As usual.

Even Brother Athelstan isn’t safe from the dark goings-on, as he is comes face to face with some fairly brutal events – and a genuinely surprising development for one of his parishioners that regular readers will be surprised by. I certainly was. Sir John Cranston is struggling a little with events as well – his wife has been dispatched to the country but I’ll admit, I’m worried that his determination to stay in the city isn’t going to do him any favours in the next book. Because without spoiling the ending of this one, things are going to get a lot worse before (or if) they get better…

Needless to say, this is Highly Recommended, as is the rest of the series. It’s out at the end of the month from Severn House, so do pester your libraries for a copy. In the meantime, the first ten books are available as low-price ebooks that are well worth your time. What are you waiting for?

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10 comments

  1. I read The Nightingale Gallery about two years ago and, despite enjoying it very much, probably just got swamped with other books because I’ve never read another Doherty. This is a timely reminder, many thanks!

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