Wednesday, 1 July 1998

P.C. Doherty: The Devil's Hunt (1996)

Edition: Headline, 1996
Review number: 80

This is the seventh Hugh Corbett mystery, part of the series set in England during the reign of Edward I. This particular novel is set in Oxford, where Corbett is sent by the king to investigate the serial murder of the masters of Sparrow Hall, a small foundation forming part of the University and the mysterious proclamations of "The Bellman", who calls down curses on the king in the name of his old enemy Simon de Montfort.

When Hugh arrives in a city full of memories of his own youth, he discovers that Sparrow Hall is involved in other suspicious activities: students from the hall are believed to be part of a satanic coven meeting outside the city and ritually murdering beggars.

In this rather unpleasant situation, Hugh sets to work. The king is unconcerned about the murders themselves, just about the activities of the Bellman. He fears that proclamations in the name of Simon de Montfort might spark a rebellion, even after many years of Edward's rule.

The book is typical of the series, which I like in general because it conveys a much more accurate reflection of the medieval period than many members of this genre - in particular, the Ellis Peters' Cadfael books, which present a heavily romanticised and modernised version of the twelfth century, with Cadfael a twentieth century detective in thought and word and deed. The level of violence is quite high, and the investigation proceeds slowly enough to allow several more murders to take place before Corbett knows what is going on. I prefer, as detective stories, the Brother Athelstan mysteries written by Doherty under the name of Peter Haining.

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