There have been three truly great medieval murder mystery writers in my lifetime, all British— Ellis Peters (aka Edith Pargeter, with her sleuth Brother Cadfael), C.J. Sansom, and Paul Doherty. They all write very well, know how to keep you guessing and have produced interesting full-bodied characters. While Peters novels are a bit lighter and more cheerful and often involve romance as well as murder, Doherty and Sansom’s novels plumb the depths of some of the more dark side of medieval life in England. I have learned a very great deal about writing novels just from reading these fine authors.
The Treason of the Ghosts is actually eleven years old now, but somehow I had missed out on reading it, so I doubled back to it. It was more than well worth it, as this novel is one of the most suspenseful of the whole series, and keeps you guessing to the very end. What especially intrigues me about Hugh Corbett, the King’s man and Clerk to King Edward, is that he is a committed Christian person, fully engaged at all times in making sure justice is done, though not without mercy and compassion, and at all times relentless in his pursuit of the truth. Would that more of my students were truth seekers like Sir Hugh.
One of the things that makes this novel especially intriguing is the way Corbett connects God with a passion for justice. Having just read Rob Bell’s Love Wins I kept wishing that Rob would read this novel which stresses the holiness and justice of God, as well as God’s compassion on the oppressed and abused, and love for all. Along the way we get a picture of clergy who mean well, but in fact often get in the way of God’s work being done. Hugh Corbett comes into town to clean it up, and like a combination of a guardian angel and an avenging angel, he does his work well. There are also Sir Hugh’s trustee sidekicks— Ranulf his right hand man and protector, and Chanson, the young lad who tends to and cares for the horses. They make an interesting team. Along the way you learn much about life in a medieval town— the lives, the loves, the foods, the laws, by which such people lived.
For those who love history and mystery and a good tale, well-told, and a real page turner, these Doherty novels are worth your time and interested. Among other things, they show another side of life during a period of church history when England was supposed to be a Christian nation ruled by a Christian king. Warning– if you are afraid of things that go bump in the night, and ghosts, goblins, and wee beasties, then don’t read this novel late at night.