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“The Tower still stands…”

Thus spoke Simeon Glapthorne when told by Inspector Jimmy Waghorn that his son was dead. The elderly Simeon seemed much more concerned with the old Tower on his land than the fate of Caleb, a man who many found hard to like. Caleb died in what appeared at first to be a shooting accident, his shotgun exploding when it was fired. It is quickly ascertained that this was no accident, and Waghorn, only in the area to investigate a gang of thieves, finds himself investigating a murder.

But it seems that this murder is motiveless. The only inheritance at stake is debt, a debt tied to the failing Glapthorne estate, and while Caleb was unpleasant, he didn’t seem so unpleasant that someone would murder him. While Jimmy becomes certain that he has the murderer in his sights, it will be impossible to prove without a reason for the murder. Luckily, he has a friend who might be able to help with that…

Long-time readers of the blog may have been wondering where the John Rhode reviews have been recently. It’s been six months since I last sampled his work, with Death Takes A Detour, and even longer since I looked at The Murders In Praed Street, my most recent Dr Priestley title. Why the hiatus? To be honest, no idea. But we’re back with the twenty-ninth Dr Priestely outing.

The Priestley titles break down roughly into three categories. Either Priestley is heavily involved in the case from the start, his interest is piqued halfway through by Jimmy Waghorn or Hanslet and then he shows up at the scene of the crime to sort things out or he does a Nero Wolfe and just dispenses sage advice from the safety of his study. This is from the second category – we start with Jimmy investigating the motiveless murder, he chats a bit to Priestley who is mostly interested in a coded message in the Glapthorne family Bible, and then, after things escalate, Priestley and Harold Merefield show up to try and nudge Jimmy in the right direction before almost audibly sighing and telling him who the murderer is.

I enjoyed this one a lot. There is less of the period detail of the time, such as in Death In The Hop Fields and less convoluted multiple murders, such as The Murders In Praed Street or Death On The Board, but a good, well-told tale of police investigation. Jimmy isn’t a complete idiot in this one, for the first half of the book, but the failure to investigate something spoilery does rather beggar belief. I understand the need for Priestley to deliver the coup de grace in the investigation, but he really shouldn’t need to be telling Jimmy how to do his job at one point.

I can’t let this review pass with mentioning the wonderfully silly justification for why Priestley has roused himself from his chambers, namely:

“The effect of wind pressure upon isolated structures has always been a matter of interest to me.”

Even Jimmy can spot this for the horse excrement that it is, and barely a paragraph later, Priestley admits that he’s there for the investigation, but it’s such an odd line. Priestley has always had diverse interests, but that one? Really?

Published as The Tower Of Evil in the US (which is a really stupid title, let me say), good luck finding an affordable copy of this one. There is a Collins Crime Club paperback version, the version that I own, but this is one of my luckier purchases – I’ll even turn a blind eye to a couple of errors in the text in chapter one. I wouldn’t break the bank for this one, but if you do see an affordable copy, you could do a lot worse than take a look.

Oh, and the off-chance the Rhode estate is reading this, please get in touch with one of the many reprint publishers out there – John Street’s books deserve a much wider audience that they currently have. I’m sure Dean Street Press would jump at the chance…

Availability: Not very…

Just The Facts, Ma’am: HOW Unusual Murder Method i.e. an exploding shotgun.

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Ethelred Tressiter, that not-desperately-successful crime writer turned occasional not-desperately-successful crime solver is having dinner at his old Oxford college when he comes across Dr Hilary Joyner, an historian with the fervent belief that buried treasure lurks in the depths of Sussex. Quite near to where Ethelred lives in fact…

Soon, Ethelred finds himself hosting both Joyner and his own agent, Elsie Thirkettle, and getting involved in a treasure hunt. But they are not the only people after the priceless statue of the Madonna (which originated in Malta, would you believe) – other academics, collectors, one femme fatale (in Elsie’s eyes at least) and at least two deeply suspicious gentlemen. When Dr Joyner is found dead at the bottom of the well, it seems the stakes are higher than anyone expected…

Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun. This is the eighth Ethelred and Elsie book, a series which started with the outstanding The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice and has continued to impress with every new release. After eschewing a vague Allingham vibe with The Herring In The Smoke, Len Tyler has gone for a slightly more familiar target for the general reading populace, namely Raymond Chandler – yes, I know Hammett wrote the Falcon (thanks realthog) but Chandler gets mentioned much more in this one.

You may recall that I finally read The Maltese Falcon as part of my countdown to my 1000th review and found it disappointing in the extreme. To quote my good self:

“Basically, a bunch of unpleasant people cause trouble for another unpleasant person – the focus of the tale – which is resolved after a prolonged confrontation with everyone involved. In the process, people are punched, kicked, shot, kissed…”

Well, luckily our hero is a perfectly pleasant chap, although some people, especially fellow railway passengers, may disagree about Elsie. [To digress briefly on that point, this book needs to be read just for the wonder that is Chapter Two. Nothing to do with the mystery, but possibly the funniest thing I’ve read since someone had a pop at Knox’s Decalogue in The Sinking Admiral. Now who was that again…]

Readers of the series will know exactly what to expect from the series. A highly entertaining romp hiding a proper mystery – so no parallel to The Maltese Falcon there – which takes a fair few gentle swipes at the genre. There’s a good, distinct set of suspects, all with possible motives for murdering Professor Joyner, if indeed he was murdered, and the finger of suspicion spins round faster than a roulette wheel before the tale is over.

What lifts this series above many of its contemporaries is the voices of the narrators. Ethelred is entertaining enough, but Elsie’s chapters, with her distinctive point of view, are the highlights. I think Len is wise not to let her dominate the narrative, as her somewhat cynical nature would make writing a proper mystery difficult – she’d miss out most of the details – but those chapters are laugh-out-loud funny as opposed to just humorous.

Yet again, Len Tyler has produced a wonderfully put together novel – funny, even if you don’t know much about Chandler, with endearing central characters and a well-plotted mystery. Oh, and if you haven’t tried them yet, and you’re a fan of the series, don’t miss out on his historical John Grey series, starting with this one. They’re great too! And if you want more info on his books in general, then take a look at this page.

Availability: It’s out on July 18th as a hardback and an ebook. Thanks to Allison and Busby for the review copy.

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Ethelred Tressiter, that not-desperately-successful crime writer turned occasional not-desperately-successful crime solver is having dinner at his old Oxford college when he comes across Dr Hilary Joyner, an historian with the fervent belief that buried treasure lurks in the depths of Sussex. Quite near to where Ethelred lives in fact…

Soon, Ethelred finds himself hosting both Joyner and his own agent, Elsie Thirkettle, and getting involved in a treasure hunt. But they are not the only people after the priceless statue of the Madonna (which originated in Malta, would you believe) – other academics, collectors, one femme fatale (in Elsie’s eyes at least) and at least two deeply suspicious gentlemen. When Dr Joyner is found dead at the bottom of the well, it seems the stakes are higher than anyone expected…

Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun. This is the eighth Ethelred and Elsie book, a series which started with the outstanding The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice and has continued to impress with every new release. After eschewing a vague Allingham vibe with The Herring In The Smoke, Len Tyler has gone for a slightly more familiar target for the general reading populace, namely Raymond Chandler.

You may recall that I finally read The Maltese Falcon as part of my countdown to my 1000th review and found it disappointing in the extreme. To quote my good self:

“Basically, a bunch of unpleasant people cause trouble for another unpleasant person – the focus of the tale – which is resolved after a prolonged confrontation with everyone involved. In the process, people are punched, kicked, shot, kissed…”

Well, luckily our hero is a perfectly pleasant chap, although some people, especially fellow railway passengers, may disagree about Elsie. [To digress briefly on that point, this book needs to be read just for the wonder that is Chapter Two. Nothing to do with the mystery, but possibly the funniest thing I’ve read since someone had a pop at Knox’s Decalogue in The Sinking Admiral. Now who was that again…]

Readers of the series will know exactly what to expect from the series. A highly entertaining romp hiding a proper mystery – so no parallel to The Maltese Falcon there – which takes a fair few gentle swipes at the genre. There’s a good, distinct set of suspects, all with possible motives for murdering Professor Joyner, if indeed he was murdered, and the finger of suspicion spins round faster than a roulette wheel before the tale is over.

What lifts this series above many of its contemporaries is the voices of the narrators. Ethelred is entertaining enough, but Elsie’s chapters, with her distinctive point of view, are the highlights. I think Len is wise not to let her dominate the narrative, as her somewhat cynical nature would make writing a proper mystery difficult – she’d miss out most of the details – but those chapters are laugh-out-loud funny as opposed to just humorous.

Yet again, Len Tyler has produced a wonderfully put together novel – funny, even if you don’t know much about Chandler, with endearing central characters and a well-plotted mystery. Oh, and if you haven’t tried them yet, and you’re a fan of the series, don’t miss out on his historical John Grey series, starting with this one. They’re great too! And if you want more info on his books in general, then take a look at this page.

Availability: It’s out on July 18th as a hardback and an ebook. Thanks to Allison and Busby for the review copy.

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1311, Holyrood Abbey on the Welsh marshes. The abbey was founded as both a prison and a vault, guarding both a masked prisoner and the priceless dagger that nearly stole the life from Edward I during the Crusades, staffed by the late Edward’s former order of bodyguards, now having taken holy vows. By all accounts, the Abbey should be a place of peace – but both inside the walls, and outside, in the valley beyond, dark forces are plotting.

Sir Hugh Corbett is summoned to the abbey to find it in disarray. The Abbot has been poisoned, and the monks are dying one by one, struck down by an iron nail pounded into their heads – and despite being former warriors, their bodies show no signs of a struggle…  With the untrustworthy Lord Mortimer and French agent de Craon in attendance, Corbett is short of people he can trust. And all the time, the Black Chesters, a dark cult that Corbett thought he had ended, are gathering…

It’s been a whole two books since I last reviewed something by Paul Doherty. Gone are the days when I would just plough through book after book by the same author, but when writing up the review of In The Time Of The Poisoned Queen, I thought I’d check when Paul’s next new title was coming out, and wouldn’t you know it…

This is the twentieth Hugh Corbett mystery, the third since he returned from his six-year hiatus, and for fans of the earlier books, we are now in the reign of Edward II, a less imposing monarch than his father. This book takes place away from court though, and the only figure that the layman (i.e. me) might recognise is Roger Mortimer, the future deposer of the king, although that’s a few years off at this point.

A little knowledge of the history surrounding the time enriches the reader, but it’s not at all necessary, as Paul tells you everything you need to know in the course of the story and, in the epilogue, details which parts of the narrative are fact and which are fiction. Historical language and dialogue are woven into the plot, with the author not feeling the need to define every archaic term, only the essential ones. If the meaning is clear from the context, there’s no need to pause the action and, given the break-neck pace of parts of this tale, it’s a sensible choice from the author not to do so.

But, based on the general comments I get, you’re probably not here for the quality of the history, but the quality of the mystery – and it’s a cracker. The motivation for the crimes is rather complex, but this is a fairly clued puzzle, with a proper impossible crime – you could see the “how can you hammer a nail into someone’s head without them resisting” question as impossible, but when it happens to two prisoners who are locked inside a jail cell…

There’s also a section… well, it’s hard to say much without spoiling some important developments, but just when you think it’s all over, he reveals some large problems with Corbett’s theories, problems that the reader won’t have spotted but ought to have, and deals with them magnificently. I can’t say any more – just read the book.

This is another great entry into the Hugh Corbett series – you may recall me saying the same thing about the previous fifteen books at least (there’s a marked improvement at book five, but the first four have their charms) – and I think it’s the best of the recent three. If I had to have a niggle at something, some of the background exposition is given twice early on from two different points of view, but there didn’t seem to be anything gained from the second telling. But that’s two pages to moan about – the other 340? Near perfect.

Availability: It’s out today! How’s that for perfect timing? It’s available in hardback and ebook, with the paperback on the way in November. Many thanks to Headline and Paul for the review copy.

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1311, Holyrood Abbey on the Welsh marshes. The abbey was founded as both a prison and a vault, guarding both a masked prisoner and the priceless dagger that nearly stole the life from Edward I during the Crusades, staffed by the late Edward’s former order of bodyguards, now having taken holy vows. By all accounts, the Abbey should be a place of peace – but both inside the walls, and outside, in the valley beyond, dark forces are plotting.

Sir Hugh Corbett is summoned to the abbey to find it in disarray. The Abbot has been poisoned, and the monks are dying one by one, struck down by an iron nail pounded into their heads – and despite being former warriors, their bodies show no signs of a struggle…  With the untrustworthy Lord Mortimer and French agent de Craon in attendance, Corbett is short of people he can trust. And all the time, the Black Chesters, a dark cult that Corbett thought he had ended, are gathering…

It’s been a whole two books since I last reviewed something by Paul Doherty. Gone are the days when I would just plough through book after book by the same author, but when writing up the review of In The Time Of The Poisoned Queen, I thought I’d check when Paul’s next new title was coming out, and wouldn’t you know it…

This is the twentieth Hugh Corbett mystery, the third since he returned from his six-year hiatus, and for fans of the earlier books, we are now in the reign of Edward II, a less imposing monarch than his father. This book takes place away from court though, and the only figure that the layman (i.e. me) might recognise is Roger Mortimer, the future deposer of the king, although that’s a few years off at this point.

A little knowledge of the history surrounding the time enriches the reader, but it’s not at all necessary, as Paul tells you everything you need to know in the course of the story and, in the epilogue, details which parts of the narrative are fact and which are fiction. Historical language and dialogue are woven into the plot, with the author not feeling the need to define every archaic term, only the essential ones. If the meaning is clear from the context, there’s no need to pause the action and, given the break-neck pace of parts of this tale, it’s a sensible choice from the author not to do so.

But, based on the general comments I get, you’re probably not here for the quality of the history, but the quality of the mystery – and it’s a cracker. The motivation for the crimes is rather complex, but this is a fairly clued puzzle, with a proper impossible crime – you could see the “how can you hammer a nail into someone’s head without them resisting” question as impossible, but when it happens to two prisoners who are locked inside a jail cell…

There’s also a section… well, it’s hard to say much without spoiling some important developments, but just when you think it’s all over, he reveals some large problems with Corbett’s theories, problems that the reader won’t have spotted but ought to have, and deals with them magnificently. I can’t say any more – just read the book.

This is another great entry into the Hugh Corbett series – you may recall me saying the same thing about the previous fifteen books at least (there’s a marked improvement at book five, but the first four have their charms) – and I think it’s the best of the recent three. If I had to have a niggle at something, some of the background exposition is given twice early on from two different points of view, but there didn’t seem to be anything gained from the second telling. But that’s two pages to moan about – the other 340? Near perfect.

Availability: It’s out today! How’s that for perfect timing? It’s available in hardback and ebook, with the paperback on the way in November. Many thanks to Headline and Paul for the review copy.

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April 1555, and Jack Blackjack has managed to find a way to make his career as assassin to Sir John Blount work – namely by subcontracting any work sent his way. All he currently wants to do is bed a young woman who is looking for some guidance as a confidence trickster, while avoiding her rather aggressive gentleman friend. That would normally be enough to cause trouble for Jack, but things are going to get much worse for him. Two rather aggressive money lenders have him in their sights (despite him not actually borrowing money from them) and he’s been accused of the murder of a vicar.

Dragged to the village of St Botolph, Jack finds himself roped into a treasure hunt by an old friend/enemy but before he can do that, he might just have to find the real murderer. But with his enemies closing in, and his own personal fortune at stake, playing detective might be the last thing he wants to do…

The fourth title in Michael Jecks’ highly enjoyable Bloody Mary Tudor series – although it’s worth pointing out that Mary Tudor is barely mentioned in this one. Whatever causes the casual browser to take a look at the book, I guess, but how about an intelligent, informed, unbiased review instead?

Well… that might be a bit difficult. Michael is a friend-of-the-blog, and lovely bloke that he is, has dedicated this book to me. I’ve been reviewing Mike’s work for ages, often chat to him via the Interweb and stole a lot of his free time at last year’s Alibis In The Archive, and it’s fair to say that I love his work. In general, his books contained a complex mystery that twists all over the place while painting a stunning picture of time and place. This one is, of course, no different.

Treat this review as biased if you like, but this is a great book. The Jack Blackjack series is more light-hearted in its voice than the Templar series, but that doesn’t stop it from addressing some very serious topics. Mike will usually pick one aspect of history to tie the story around – in this case, the fact that when Mary took the throne and re-catholicised England, married priests were given the choice to abandon their family or abandon the church, a choice that would tear either a community or a family apart. The murder victim in this case chose the church, but his abandoned family chose to remain close by, a situation that beautifully sets up a variety of motives for murder.

The events surrounding the murder are nicely complex, with some real echoes of the classic mystery – the body was seeming stabbed while naked, redressed and then stabbed eight more times, before being moved at least once – and the narrative doesn’t shy away from the actions that people were forced to take to survive, even at times giving a grudging sense of acceptance in Jack’s narrative to actions that we would consider unacceptable today. Modernising a past character’s attitudes is all too common in historical fiction and while Jack is still, basically, a good… well, not bad person, he does seem to come from that period of time, with the attitudes to match.

The murder tale is split around Jack’s attempts to help a pair of young con artists (for purely personal reasons) and the money-lenders attempts to either get their ever-increasing debt or to cut of Jack’s balcocks with an eye-wateringly sharp set of shears – but these events are interwoven to make a complete tale. Every mystery writer is allowed one massive coincidence to drive the plot forward (and there is a massive one here), but it serves the plot well, adding a cohesion to the tale.

In summary, this is a great example of the historical mystery. Let me add in my normal plea at this point – if you are one of those people who tried a Cadfael and got put off the historical mystery for life, please think again. There are a wealth of books out there, great mysteries and great reads that you are missing out on. This is one of those books.

Availability: The Dead Don’t Wait is out on July 31st from Severn House – check out your local library if it’s a little pricey for you. And – good news – the first Jack Blackjack book, Rebellion’s Message will be out from Black Thorn Books in paperback in December.

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April 1555, and Jack Blackjack has managed to find a way to make his career as assassin to Sir John Blount work – namely by subcontracting any work sent his way. All he currently wants to do is bed a young woman who is looking for some guidance as a confidence trickster, while avoiding her rather aggressive gentleman friend. That would normally be enough to cause trouble for Jack, but things are going to get much worse for him. Two rather aggressive money lenders have him in their sights (despite him not actually borrowing money from them) and he’s been accused of the murder of a vicar.

Dragged to the village of St Botolph, Jack finds himself roped into a treasure hunt by an old friend/enemy but before he can do that, he might just have to find the real murderer. But with his enemies closing in, and his own personal fortune at stake, playing detective might be the last thing he wants to do…

The fourth title in Michael Jecks’ highly enjoyable Bloody Mary Tudor series – although it’s worth pointing out that Mary Tudor is barely mentioned in this one. Whatever causes the casual browser to take a look at the book, I guess, but how about an intelligent, informed, unbiased review instead?

Well… that might be a bit difficult. Michael is a friend-of-the-blog, and lovely bloke that he is, has dedicated this book to me. I’ve been reviewing Mike’s work for ages, often chat to him via the Interweb and stole a lot of his free time at last year’s Alibis In The Archive, and it’s fair to say that I love his work. In general, his books contained a complex mystery that twists all over the place while painting a stunning picture of time and place. This one is, of course, no different.

Treat this review as biased if you like, but this is a great book. The Jack Blackjack series is more light-hearted in its voice than the Templar series, but that doesn’t stop it from addressing some very serious topics. Mike will usually pick one aspect of history to tie the story around – in this case, the fact that when Mary took the throne and re-catholicised England, married priests were given the choice to abandon their family or abandon the church, a choice that would tear either a community or a family apart. The murder victim in this case chose the church, but his abandoned family chose to remain close by, a situation that beautifully sets up a variety of motives for murder.

The events surrounding the murder are nicely complex, with some real echoes of the classic mystery – the body was seeming stabbed while naked, redressed and then stabbed eight more times, before being moved at least once – and the narrative doesn’t shy away from the actions that people were forced to take to survive, even at times giving a grudging sense of acceptance in Jack’s narrative to actions that we would consider unacceptable today. Modernising a past character’s attitudes is all too common in historical fiction and while Jack is still, basically, a good… well, not bad person, he does seem to come from that period of time, with the attitudes to match.

The murder tale is split around Jack’s attempts to help a pair of young con artists (for purely personal reasons) and the money-lenders attempts to either get their ever-increasing debt or to cut of Jack’s balcocks with an eye-wateringly sharp set of shears – but these events are interwoven to make a complete tale. Every mystery writer is allowed one massive coincidence to drive the plot forward (and there is a massive one here), but it serves the plot well, adding a cohesion to the tale.

In summary, this is a great example of the historical mystery. Let me add in my normal plea at this point – if you are one of those people who tried a Cadfael and got put off the historical mystery for life, please think again. There are a wealth of books out there, great mysteries and great reads that you are missing out on. This is one of those books.

Availability: The Dead Don’t Wait is out on July 31st from Severn House – check out your local library if it’s a little pricey for you. And – good news – the first Jack Blackjack book, Rebellion’s Message will be out from Black Thorn Books in paperback in December.

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1558, and an ailing Mary Tudor sits on the throne of England. As her enemies – Catherine de Medici, Mary Queen of Scots, her sister Elizabeth – begin to circle, rumours persist that Mary is being poisoned. Pope Paul IV dispatches Nicholas Segalla, the man who does not die, to the English Court to find the truth, but what he discovers is a dark conspiracy.

Who are the “Four Evangelists”, plotters against the Queen of England? What is the significance of the bible verse, Mark 15:34, appended to threatening letters to Mary? As the body count at court, and in the streets of London, begins to rise, Segalla finds himself pitted against a deadly adversary – or is there perhaps more than one hand at work against him?

Back to an old, old favourite of the blog – Paul Doherty, probably the first “favourite” author that I discovered due to the blog. A long time ago, I was looking for a decent historical mystery writer, as opposed to “historical romance with a whiff of mystery”, and Sergio recommended trying Paul’s work out.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, fans of classic mysteries are missing a whole raft of books – over 100 at the moment – by overlooking Paul’s work. A closed cast of suspects, an interesting sleuth, usually a locked room or two… the second volume to Bob Adey’s Locked Room Murders will feature many entries for Paul’s work. I know this because I wrote them. Some people will pass because they like their Golden Age mysteries set in the Golden Age, but I do implore you to give them a try.

This one features Nicholas Segalla, a short-lived sleuth who spans the ages. The conceit is that he is the mythical immortal man, who cannot die but has been involved in some of histories “real” mysteries, relating those stories to modern day historian Ann Dukthas (the pseudonym that Paul used for initial publication). It enables the writer to explore an historical mystery – in this case, was Mary poisoned or did she die of natural causes – in a less academic way than he has in other books. These aren’t the only titles where he does this – the early Matthew Jenkyn books looked at Richard II and Joan of Arc, and some standalones – Dove Amongst The Hawks, The Masked Man and The Fate Of Princes – take the same approach, but this is the only series that takes this as its premise.

I honestly don’t know if this plot behind the murders is Paul’s genuine theory as to what happened in Mary’s final days, or whether he has just constructed an intriguing mystery around the events. Most of the characters are real historical characters and while the conspiracy is perhaps a tad more unbelievable than some of Paul’s other theories, it’s not so far out there as to be considered silly.

And at the core of the tale, we have someone (or someones) going around poisoning people and, for a bit of a change, sometimes setting fire to people. And the mystery, a fairly clued one at that, completely flummoxed me. I was convinced I knew who the guilty party was, but Paul hid it exceptionally well and had me looking in the wrong direction.

The story, needless to say, contains plenty of the history of the time, but novices to late Tudor history won’t be flummoxed – everything you need to know is given to you, without the author ever descending into lecturing the reader.

This is probably the best of the Segalla books – the series is long since been put out to pasture – but there’s no need to read them in order. And I really recommend that you do read this one.

Oh, and here’s a bit of trivia – not only is this the first of two Paul Doherty books this month, but it’s also the first of two books concerning Mary Tudor. Stay tuned…

Availability: You can get it as an ebook for a few quid.

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1558, and an ailing Mary Tudor sits on the throne of England. As her enemies – Catherine de Medici, Mary Queen of Scots, her sister Elizabeth – begin to circle, rumours persist that Mary is being poisoned. Pope Paul IV dispatches Nicholas Segalla, the man who does not die, to the English Court to find the truth, but what he discovers is a dark conspiracy.

Who are the “Four Evangelists”, plotters against the Queen of England? What is the significance of the bible verse, Mark 15:34, appended to threatening letters to Mary? As the body count at court, and in the streets of London, begins to rise, Segalla finds himself pitted against a deadly adversary – or is there perhaps more than one hand at work against him?

Back to an old, old favourite of the blog – Paul Doherty, probably the first “favourite” author that I discovered due to the blog. A long time ago, I was looking for a decent historical mystery writer, as opposed to “historical romance with a whiff of mystery”, and Sergio recommended trying Paul’s work out.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, fans of classic mysteries are missing a whole raft of books – over 100 at the moment – by overlooking Paul’s work. A closed cast of suspects, an interesting sleuth, usually a locked room or two… the second volume to Bob Adey’s Locked Room Murders will feature many entries for Paul’s work. I know this because I wrote them. Some people will pass because they like their Golden Age mysteries set in the Golden Age, but I do implore you to give them a try.

This one features Nicholas Segalla, a short-lived sleuth who spans the ages. The conceit is that he is the mythical immortal man, who cannot die but has been involved in some of histories “real” mysteries, relating those stories to modern day historian Ann Dukthas (the pseudonym that Paul used for initial publication). It enables the writer to explore an historical mystery – in this case, was Mary poisoned or did she die of natural causes – in a less academic way than he has in other books. These aren’t the only titles where he does this – the early Matthew Jenkyn books looked at Richard II and Joan of Arc, and some standalones – Dove Amongst The Hawks, The Masked Man and The Fate Of Princes – take the same approach, but this is the only series that takes this as its premise.

I honestly don’t know if this plot behind the murders is Paul’s genuine theory as to what happened in Mary’s final days, or whether he has just constructed an intriguing mystery around the events. Most of the characters are real historical characters and while the conspiracy is perhaps a tad more unbelievable than some of Paul’s other theories, it’s not so far out there as to be considered silly.

And at the core of the tale, we have someone (or someones) going around poisoning people and, for a bit of a change, sometimes setting fire to people. And the mystery, a fairly clued one at that, completely flummoxed me. I was convinced I knew who the guilty party was, but Paul hid it exceptionally well and had me looking in the wrong direction.

The story, needless to say, contains plenty of the history of the time, but novices to late Tudor history won’t be flummoxed – everything you need to know is given to you, without the author ever descending into lecturing the reader.

This is probably the best of the Segalla books – the series is long since been put out to pasture – but there’s no need to read them in order. And I really recommend that you do read this one.

Oh, and here’s a bit of trivia – not only is this the first of two Paul Doherty books this month, but it’s also the first of two books concerning Mary Tudor. Stay tuned…

Availability: You can get it as an ebook for a few quid.

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At the height of the second World War, Francis Pettigrew is dispatched from the peril of London to Marsett on Sea, as legal adviser to the Pin Control, a government department that is being hosted in the former home of the improbably named Lord Eglwyswrw. Needless to say, this isn’t the most riveting work that Pettigrew and his compatriots have ever undertaken, and the days drag by.

The group soon begin to invent ways to pass the time. While Pettigrew doesn’t really get involved, the rest, including a known crime novelist, invent a murder game. Hey, you’ll never guess what? Oh, you guessed.

Cyril Hare is a much admired writer of crime fiction. Martin Edwards and Christine Poulson are big fans, and he is certainly one of those crime writers who fans of the genre have heard of. Tragedy At Law is his best known book, but I wasn’t a fan, oddly for the same reason why Martin admires it, namely the lateness of the central crime. So what about this generally well-received second outing for Pettigrew?

Meh…

I think the main problem with this is the pacing. One man’s satire on government bureaucracy is another man’s padding. Couple all the nonsense with the investigation that brings Inspector Mallett into the area before the murder takes place, an investigation that is kept nebulous, and this reader found himself checking the remaining page count more often that I’d like.

What about the mystery? Well, I was helped a little here by having read the penultimate Pettigrew mystery, and thus I guessed the importance of one central character. Unfortunately, once you work out what their purpose in the story, the murderer might as well be wearing a high-vis jacket with “I DID IT” written on the back.

I can’t deny the quality of Hare’s prose, but there wasn’t enough in the core plot to sustain the novel format and the chunk towards the end where Pettigrew disappears from view and we are entertained by Mallett interviewing suspects – well, it’s entertaining in places, but by this point the killer was obvious to me and it felt a bit like marking time until the denouement.

I think I’m in a minority here, but while this passed the time and was an easy read – as I said, Hare writes well – there just wasn’t enough to it in my eyes. I’ve a few other Hares on my shelf… maybe better luck next time.

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