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Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Mysterium. Paul Doherty. Headline Publishing Group (2010)

A very entertaining and engaging medieval murder mystery that makes the most of the historical context, engaging cast and superb plot mechanics. In February 1304 in London the Chief Justice, Walter Evesham has been removed from office and has been allowed to retire to a cell in the Abbey of Syon on Thames. When Evesham's chief clerk is found murdered with the mark of an assassin that Evesham had captured years earlier and Evesham himself is found murdered and marked, Sir Hugh Corbett is ordered by Edward I to investigate. The investigation twists and coils as Sir Hugh Corbett investigates the original case and the present murders. The reveals are cunningly staged and the satisfying sour conclusion is very well staged.
Paul Doherty uses the historical context with impressive skill, evoking the crowded space of London with its extraordinary collections of nobles, merchants, workers and criminals all jostling each other in narrow streets and all the hidden connections that link and divide them. The King and the wealthy merchants of London, The Great Ones, were in constant tension as they struggled to establish the boundaries to each others power and influence. The Great Ones routinely uses gangs of criminals to carry out their wishes and the Mysterium exploited this situation to the full before he was captured by Evesham, only to escape from a tightly guarded church. This locked room mystery is superbly set up and managed by Paul Doherty. The mystery and its resolution are central to the story and are firmly tied to the rest of the plot mechanics.
The unfolding of the plot is masterful, from the ferocious opening action of a murder and a dreadful siege of a church, the action returns to central questions from different angles as the reveals start to point to am increasingly tangled and dark story that slowly pulls the cast into grip. The black heart at the centre of the story is clever and malicious, Sir Hugh Corbett has to work very hard to grasp the full depths of the trouble that has been created. Paul Dohery has done a great favour to the reader, he has given his lead character a genuinely difficult problem to solve. The work that Sir Hugh Corbett has to do to is what brings the reader into the story and the conclusion is entirely appropriate for the story that went ahead of it.
The story captures the way the present is a hostage to the past and reappear with shattering results. The investigation is carefully managed, Sir Hugh Corbett is clever resourceful and persistent. He follows the possibilities with energy and is fully aware of the web on interests that he is attempting to unravel. The cast are very well developed and engaging, they all push themselves forward to engage the reader and they are given true, individual voices, including the walk on parts.
Paul Doherty is so confident in his context and the cast that the context is allowed to seep into the story, it is simply present and influential, the social and religious structures taken so firmly for granted are revealed in the action of the story without being explain to the reader. Great story, superb crime fiction.

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