Brother Athelstan is a Dominican friar, priest to St Erconwald’s in Southwark, and secretarius to Sir John Cranston, the coroner of the City of London. There is a recurring cast of parishoners as well, but, as the books are set in the reign of Richard II (the late 14th century), there is also the political background of general unrest to provide additional detail to the stories, building to the Peasants’ Revolt in the most recent titles. Usually (but not always) features an impossible crime.
Note that these books (up to The Assassin’s Riddle) were published under the pseudonym Paul Harding, but they have been reprinted under the name Paul Doherty as well. Thereafter, they were published directly under the name Paul Doherty. The first ten books are available for a pittance as ebooks from Severn House Publishing – the most recent are a little pricier but well worth it.
An introduction to Athelstan, Sir John Cranston and the various supporting characters as they investigate an impossible poisoning or two – how did the murderer pass through the Nightingale Gallery – so called due to the sound the floorboards make – without being heard?
The constable of the Tower of London is found with his throat cut inside a locked chamber. How did his assassin cross the frozen moat and scale the tower without being seen? And who else is on his/her list? Includes a novelty – Death by Bear!
Athelstan has his hands full, dealing with murdered monks at Blackfriars, an unearthed relic and an impossible healing at his own church and sorting out a locked room mystery that Sir John has wagered his reputation (and 10,000 pounds) on the fact that he can solve it.
Right – deep breath. An impossible poisoning, two impossible stabbings, a demonic possession, a second unrelated impossible poisoning and an impossible theft. Oh, and someone’s stealing traitors’ body parts from being displayed on London Bridge. All this, and Athelstan faces the threat of Ira Dei, the Anger of God, the figurehead of a potential rebellion against the regent.
The Mary Celeste in the middle of the River Thames. What has happened to the crew of the warship God’s Bright Light? Was the captain poisoned – and if so how? Add to this the mystery of some impossible thefts and a battle on the river, and Athelstan barely has time to decide who should play God in the parish mystery play. With Cranston around, Satan is a little easier to cast…
Or the Houses of Parliament, as most people know it. The Regent has summoned Parliament in order to raise more money to wage war on the French. But when the former Knights of the Swan, members for Shropshire, arrive, warnings and executions follow. Add in a demon haunting St Erconwald’s and the disappearance of all the cats, and Athelstan certainly has his hands full.
The clerks of the Office of the Green Wax are being picked off one by one, with the assassin conveniently leaving cryptic clues on the bodies. Meanwhile a money lender is found shot by a crossbow while locked in his vault – locked from the inside that is – and a large sum of money has been stolen. Unfortunately, that money belonged to the regent John of Gaunt so guess who’s enlisted to sort things out…
The new fragile peace between England and France is threatened when captive French sailors are being killed off one by one inside an English prison. The French masterspy Mercurius is in town, but how can he (or anyone else) be poisoning the men with no trace of the poison? And meanwhile, the Great Community is starting to move…
Athelstan investigates two crimes – the murder of a royal messenger in his parish that could bring punishment to all of his flock if unsolved, and the bodies found buried in the eponymous Field of Blood. My first encounter with the good friar – I’ll be revisiting this at some point as I read it out of series order.
In 1360, the great treasure of the Lombards was stolen, vanishing without trace. Twenty years later, a group of knights reassemble for a reunion and, yes, start getting murdered one by one. Is it linked to the missing treasure or is there a darker motive?
Athelstan is back after an eight year break, investigating a locked room poisoning, an impossible theft and the murder of a number of mercenaries. Is there a curse on the stolen Bloodstone? As Athelstan investigates and the body count rises, it certainly seems so. BONUS: Includes death by pig – sort of…
Back to the Tower of London as the Peasants’ Revolt creeps ever nearer and the Upright Men unleash chaos directed at John of Gaunt. Two people are shot by an unseen crossbow during a performance by Gaunt’s players, The Straw Men. And how did those disembodied heads appear in the middle of the stage?
The Upright Men are targetting Gaunt’s henchmen and when tax collector Edward Marsen is found murdered inside a locked fortress, suspicion falls on them. But there are other plans being woven on the streets of Southwark, some leading back to St Erconwald’s itself. Even if Athelstan can find the truth, can everyone be saved?
Those responsible for the execution of Lady Isolda Beaumont – she was burnt for killing her husband – find themselves in the sights of the Ignifier, a murder who has found the secret of Greek Fire and is using it to take vengeance. While Athelstan deals with a miraculous healing in his church, he and Sir John struggle to keep the fire from the hands of the Upright Men.
It’s all kicking off in London as the Great Uprising is imminent. But Brother Athelstan is preoccupied with the death of Amaury Whitfield, clerk to the Regent’s Master of Secrets. Did the so-called Herald Of Hell terrify him so much that he committed suicide? Or did a stealthier hand creep into his room and hang him without leaving a mark on his body?