Wednesday, 19 July 2000

Paul Doherty: The Devil's Domain (1998)

Edition: Headline, 1998
Review number: 541

The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan now join Paul Doherty's other successful historical novels in being published under that name rather than the Paul Harding pseudonym. Eighth in the series, The Devil's Domain is typical, with the background of 1390s London fearful because of the growing unrest that would eventually lead to the Peasant's Revolt. Though this background is constantly part of the novel (and, indeed, the series), the more immediate cause of the mystery to be investigated by John Cranston, Coroner of the City of London, and his friend brother Athelstan, is the ongoing wars with France (later lumped together by historians as the Hundred Years' War).

A group of French prisoners has been housed in Hawkmere Manor, now Cripplegate, during a truce while their ransoms are negotiated and paid. However, one of them dies mysteriously, poisoned in a locked room even though the prisoners have agreed only to eat food they have shared, fearing an attack of this kind.

The plot is ingenious (though fairly specialist knowledge would be needed to work it out ahead of brother Athelstan). The background is, as always in Doherty's medieval novels, detailed and convincing (and not as sanitised as that presented by, say, Ellis Peters). Whatever author's name they appear under, the series continues to be worth reading.

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