Reading in the Time of Covid – 19
Over the last thirty years of so I have enjoyed reading mystery novels by Paul C. Doherty (albeit sometimes under one of his half dozen pen names, Anna Apostolou, Michael Clynes, Ann Dukthas, C.L. Grace, Paul Harding, Vanessa Alexander).
A prolific writer, he has provided me with many hours of enjoyment primarily with his seven Canterbury Tale mysteries, the twenty-one novels of his Hugh Corbett Series set in the 13th-century reign of Edward I of England, and the nineteen Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan novels set during the 14th-century reign of Richard II of England.
I have begun a ‘rereading’ period in my life especially during this recent chapter of code orange and red Covid times. I have returned to the14th Century world in the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan.
In this series Dominican Brother Athelstan is not only pastor to an impoverished motley flock but is forced to assist corpulent Sir John Cranston, coroner of the city of London. This is a penance imposed by his superior Dominican Prior for his wayward youth and flight from his position as a Dominican novice to fight in a crusade.
Of course, I began at the beginning with The Nightingale Gallery and then The Red Slayer. I have just finished the third mystery, Murder Most Holy, published in 1992 under his pen name Paul Harding.
As with all these stories, Doherty manages to immerse the reader into the complex world of 14th century London. Sir John of Gaunt is regent for the boy king, Richard II. The politics are complicated and dangerous, the poverty and injustices rampant and all pervading , and the goodness and frailty of Friar Athelstan and his bombastic ‘master’ intriguing and consoling as they strive to solve seemingly impossible conundrums.
In this story there are three mysteries, the numerous murders at the Church of Blackfriars, Regent Gaunt’s sinister murder puzzle test of his coroner’s acumen, and the identity of the skeleton unearthed in the sanctuary of Athelstan’s own parish church, St. Erconwald.
All are solved with patience, prudence, and with relentless logic. As in all the novels, engaging characters are drawn skilfully, and particularly in this one, Bonaventure, a battered black cat, which adopts Athelstan, and foists unwanted attention on Cranston.
As I begin the fourth novel, The Anger of God, it is wonderful to know that there are fifteen more to go!
(Here is the entire list for those interested: The Nightingale Gallery, The Red Slayer, Murder Most Holy, The Anger of God, By Murder’s Bright Light, The House of Crows, The Assassin’s Riddle, The Devil’s Domain, The Field of Blood, The House of Shadows, Bloodstone, The Straw Men, Candle Flame, The Book of Fires, The Herald of Hell, The Great Revolt, A Pilgrimage to Murder, Mansions of Murder, The Godless.)