Time to keep a New Year's resolution. At the beginning of the year, I promised readers that I would try to start talking about newer authors who are still writing what we like to call traditional mysteries - mysteries with puzzles, where the plots are at least as important as the psychological trappings of the characters.
With that promise in mind, I'd like to present British historian and author Paul Doherty, an amazingly prolific writer, the author of more than 80 books so far, with several series of historical mysteries to his credit - and with a healthy respect for the classic traditions of great mystery writing.
Consider the case of "The Nightingale Gallery," published in 1991, the first of a dozen books to feature Brother Athelstan, a Dominican friar and the assistant to the King's Coroner, Sir John Cranston, in late-14th century London. "The Nightingale Gallery is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
In “The Nightingale Gallery,” a wealthy merchant, Sir Thomas Springall, is murdered, apparently by having drunk from a chalice filled with poisoned wine. The murderer, it appears, was Sir Thomas’s servant, who had quarreled with his master earlier in the day – and, after giving his master the poisoned drink, the servant apparently hanged himself in a fit of remorse. It is far too pat and easy a solution for Brother Athelstan and Sir John to accept – particularly as there are more mysterious deaths to be accounted for. And, as they investigate, it becomes clear that there is a good deal more at stake than just the murder of a rich businessman – for it could involve a struggle for control of the English throne.
This story takes place in a vibrant London presented richly enough to become almost a character itself in the book. Doherty is a historian and the headmaster of a high school in Woodford Green, Essex. In this series of mysteries called collectively "The Sorrows of Brother Athelstan," Doherty takes readers into medieval London - a place of considerable crime, squalor, filth, with occasional intervals of hope and cheer. You can smell the stench of Doherty's London as you read the books.
Paul Doherty is new to me, but I intend to read a lot more of his books and try his different series. I was led to him by the blogger who calls himself "Puzzle Doctor" at the blog called "In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel"; you'll find his thumbnail sketches of some of the stories about Brother Athelstan and Sir John Cranston here.
"The Nightingale Gallery" was originally published under the pseudonym "Paul Harding," but it has been reissued under Paul Doherty's name. It doesn't appear to be in print, but it is readily available as an e-book for Kindle and, I presume, other formats as well.