Friday, 3 November 2000

Paul Harding: The Assassin's Riddle (1996)

Edition: Headline, 1996
Review number: 670

There are two mysteries in this novel from Harding's medieval crime series, one a locked room puzzle, a genre which has already cropped up several times in the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, and the other a serial killer who leaves riddles with the bodies of the victims. The first puzzle is the death of rich banker Bartholemew Drayton, who is found killed by a crossbow bolt in his strongroom, locked on the inside. The pressure is on Sir John Cranston, Coroner of the City of London, and his friend, the friar Athelstan, to swiftly discover the killer, particularly are five thousand pounds of silver is missing, instead of enriching the regent, John of Gaunt. The other is the murder, one by one, of the clerks working in a particular office in Chancery (which ran much of the bureaucratic administration of medieval England). The riddles left on their bodies are not in fact too difficult to work out (though they use some dubious linguistic trickery which I suspect depends on aspects of the English language which are anachronistic), and neither is the identity of the killer. The locked room is a much harder puzzle.

Having two mysteries means that the novel has to concentrate on them, rather than on the background of late fourteenth century London. Mind you, most of the readers of The Assassin's Riddle will probably already have read earlier novels in the series, so this doesn't matter as much as it might do.

No comments: