The Treason of the Ghosts by
pbk out April 00
This is another historical mystery from the well-known stable of Paul Doherty, about the eleventh in the Hugh Corbett series. Hugh is an early fourteenth- century Inspector Morse and his Sergeant Lewis is Ranulf, though there is an additional retainer in the shape of Chanson, a general dogsbody.
Corbett is a knight and Keeper of the King's Secret Seal, the king in question being Edward I. Ranulf is Principal Clerk in the Chancery of the Green wax, so both are often dispatched by the monarch to investigate sticky situations. This time it is serial killing in the town of Melford, somewhere in East Anglia, in the year 1303.
There is an abundance of characters in the plot, so no lack of red herrings and alternate suspects. As always, P.C.Doherty is a master at drawing characters so that they really come to life on the pages, rather than the cardboard walk-ons that sometimes spoil a good whodunnit. The plot is complex and as usual in mystery stories, requires some suspension of belief in order to enjoy a good yarn. However, there is nothing extreme in this one to make the reader 'tut-tut', though the fairly large dramatis personae requires one to keep a firm grip on who's who, and when. There is a cunning plot, as Baldric would say, though this reviewer correctly spotted 'whodunnit' pretty early on.
The outstanding merit of this book is the masterly way in which the author conveys an atmosphere of menace in the medieval countryside, which will be remembered when the actual story has been forgotten. Paul Doherty is really very, very good at creating a creepy ambience in his books and this is one of the best.
Only one thing rather worries me about Treason of the Ghosts, and in this I am willing to admit that I may be misled, being too much influenced by my own obsession with the twelfth century. His action takes place in 1303 and somehow I get the feeling that the environment he so graphically describes, is a little too advanced for a country town in that year. Most people seem able to read, for example - and there is an electoral roll available and too much glass in too many windows, as well as a number of other doubts It doesn't matter as far as the story is concerned, put a pedant might suggest that it feels like a century later. Yet as a historical mystery, it's great and keeps P.C. Doherty well up in the leading pack of a genre which seems to expand every month.
- Author of the highly acclaimed Crowner John series set in Medieval Devon)