Mystery author #25: Paul Doherty

Also writes as: Anna Apostolou, C. L. Grace, Ann Dukthas, Michael Clynes, Paul Harding, P. C. Doherty, Paul C. Doherty, Vanessa Alexander. Some books have been published under two different names: one of the above, and later the name Paul Doherty, which I believe is his real name and under which he now writes all his books.

Note: Much of what I want to say about the writing style and characterizations and plotting and so on is applicable to all three books, so I will put it in the author review.

Title: The Nightingale Gallery, being the First of the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan
Series detective(s): Brother Athelstan, a Dominican friar, and Sir John Cranston, coroner of London
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1991, under the name of Paul Harding; reissued in 2002 under the name of Paul Doherty
Type of mystery: Murder, locked-room
Type of investigator: Amateur and professional
Setting & time: London, England, 1377
Number of murders: 4
Some themes: Locked-room murder, adultery, usury, temptation, religion.

Story: Brother Athelstan has been sent by his prior to a very poor parish in London to atone for his sins and part of his punishment is serving as a scribe and assistant to Sir John Cranston, the drunkard coroner of London. They are assigned to investigate the death of a rich goldsmith who had lent money to John of Gaunt, the newly appointed regent of England. The murder took place in a locked room and Athelstan is able to ascertain that the servant who was thought to have committed the murder and then killed himself, was also murdered. However, it takes more suspicious deaths before Athelstan and Cranston are able to discover the identity of the killer.

Rating: A historically detailed, well-written, suspenseful and complicated mystery. 3+ stars.
Title: The Hangman's Hymn
Series detective: None
No. in series: 5
Year of publication: 2001
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur, appointed by law
Setting & time: England, mostly Gloucester, late 1300's
Number of murders: Many
Some themes: Witchcraft, devil worship, poverty, social injustice, the hangman's trade

The premise of this series is that Chaucer's pilgrims from The Canterbury Tales each tell more stories than the ones Chaucer wrote about. In fact, Chaucer is a minor character in the stories.

Story: Events on the road between stops lead to Simon, the carpenter, being asked to tell his tale. He had come to Gloucester in the hope of attracting the attention of a young woman, but her father had prevented him from doing so and he had been robbed of all he had, even his clothes. He is rescued and accepts the position of assistant hangman in order to earn some much needed money. One night he and his fellow hangmen attend a secret trial of three women accused of horrible serial murders, sacrifices to the devil. The hangmen are then ordered to take them deep into the nearby Forest of Dean and hang them and keep watch over the bodies for three days before burying them. The hanging is carried out but a storm drives them to seek shelter during the first night, and in the morning the bodies are gone. Almost immediately they begin to be haunted by strange sounds and visions of the disappeared women, and one by one the men who attended the trial are murdered. In the end it is up to Simon to dig deeper and investigate the murders to find the leader of the coven so they can be stopped.

Rating: A dark mystery thriller that should appeal to all mystery lovers and quite a few horror lovers as well. 4 stars.
Title: The Demon Archer
Series detective: Sir Hugh Corbett, Clerk of the Secret Seal
No. in series: 11
Year of publication: 1999
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Professional
Setting & time: England and France, early 1300's
Number of murders under investigation: 4
Some themes: Family relations, lechery, religion, revenge

Story: Sir Henry Fitzalan, an important emissary of king Edward I is assassinated by a mysterious archer. At the same time, the body of a young woman is found in Ashdown forest, Sir Henry's estate, with an arrow wound in her throat. The king sends Sir Hugh Corbett to investigate. He discovers that Sir Henry knew something that could seriously inconvenience King Philip of France, and also that he was hated by many people, including his siblings. Among the suspects are Sir Henry's brother, his verderer, and the mysterious outlaw known as the Owlman.

Rating: A complicated and twisting historical mystery, full of intrigue and dark deeds. 3+ stars.

Author review: Paul Doherty is a historian. Many of his mysteries, including all three I read for this review, take place in fourteenth or fifteenth century England, which is not surprising considering that he wrote his doctorate about the reign of Edward II of England (1307 to 1327). The richness of the historical tidbits he includes in his books shows his familiarity with the era, but he has also written mysteries that take place in Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt and Classical era Greece. Unfortunately I was unable to get hold of any of those books.
The writing is expert, the storytelling excellent, and while I had all three murderers figured out before mid-book, the mysteries are by no means weak - Doherty just seems to firmly believe in Rules no. 1 & 2 of mystery writing and plays completely fair with the reader. It was fun to see the sometimes complicated plot twists that led to the final resolution of each story. The style of The Demon Archer and The Nightingale Gallery is similar, those two being straight mysteries, but The Hangman's Hymn is a bit different. It is as much a thriller as it is a mystery, and most of the story is quite dark, even supernatural at times, as befits a book that deals with evil and devil worship. Doherty's characterisations are excellent, and even minor characters are fleshed out and made realistic. All of this comes together to make entertaining stories that are difficult to put down. I think I can safely say that I have found another author whose books I will seek out.


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