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Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Cup of Ghosts. Paul Doherty. Headline (2006)

Wonderfully confident and engaging historical murder mystery. Mathilde of Westminister comes to England as the confidential servant and friend of Princess Isabella, daughter of Phillip of France and wife of Edward II. Mathilde entered Isabella's household as a safe place to hide, her uncle and mentor was a leading member of the Knights Templar who were destroyed by Phillip who wanted their treasures.Isabella needed someone she could trust and Mathilde, with her life threatening secret was the right person. With an uneasy and unstable peace between England and France, the marriage of Isabella and Edward was a sign of peace and reconciliation. When Mathilde discovers a merchant and his household murdered it is the start of a series of murders that will lead to the cup of ghosts. The reveals are very well staged, the context vivid and the cast are sharp and full of life.
The story is a first person narrative which can be hard to manage in a historical context, enough information has to be provided so the cast look and act naturally in their context with out drowning the reader in information or reading like a guided tour of the period. Paul Docherty has the confident knowledge and talent to make it look easy. Mathilde is moving through a world in severe transition, the world she is talking about is already history for those in her present, and she moves as a stranger into the French court and then to England. She has the perfect reason to explain what is new to her and provide both the required details and explanations as a essential part of her narrative.
Mathilde is a great guide through the murky and murderous world of high politics of the period, she has trained to be observant and to draw conclusions from her observations as pas physician, she is close enough to the heart of power to see what is going on and distant enough to allow the plot mechanics operate successfully. The rest of the cast emerge very much as Mathilde sees them, Isabelle as a seriously underestimated woman who has a burning wish for revenge on those who abused her, Edward as a mercurial man who is cursed to never forget or forgive an insult. Gaveston, Edward's favorite and tool used by Edward to cut at the great English aristocracy who had fatally wounded his pride. All stride through the story will steely determination to gain their aims, unaware that that there were others who had plans and the willingness to use any means to achieve them.
The mix of history, motive and plot mechanics is superbly done, costumes change, lust for power and greed for dominance never ages.
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