As most of you know, I enjoy good mysteries, especially those well grounded in historical realities of the given period. ‘The Prince of Darkness’ is such a mystery written by the prolific novelist and headmaster of a Catholic school in England, P.C. Doherty. I have enjoyed getting to know the redoubtable Paul and his novels, of which there are many. He and I share various things in common, not the least of which is a fondness for Durham (no not the one in North Carolina).
This particular novel is the fifth in the Hugh Corbett series, and you can get it second hand through Amazon for a pittance, which is a pity as Paul deserves better royalties he writes so well. His Hugh Corbett novels, of which there are now 17 or so, are real the cream of his crops of novels, which are in various series. This particular novel is a Devil of a tale, to say the least and could have been named ‘Get thee to a Nunnery’ because the vast majority of the novel takes place in a nunnery at Godstowe in Oxfordshire. The period is still the reign of Edward I, in this case in the year of our Lord 1300. Corbett, his man servant Ranulf, and a new companion, Maltote, must solve the mystery of various murders in and around the nunnery all without disturbing the crown, its delicate relationships with the French monarch, the volatile Prince Edward (and his male lover Gavescon) and a few other complications.
Doherty has skill in plotting, but he really excels in his descriptive powers and medieval life comes alive from the stinking back alleys of London to the perfumed courts of Westminster to the love Oxfordshire countryside and more. If you want to get a feel for medieval life, you could do worse than read these novels which are full of historical nuggets and intrigue (for example the second of the male lovers of Prince Edward was one Hugh de Spencer the ancient ancestor of Lady Diana!) I especially enjoy the comradery of Hugh and Ranulf the lusty but reliable right hand man, and the tender relationship between Hugh and his wife Maeve, now great with child in this novel. Corbett is portrayed not only as a master lawyer, clerk, spy, but also as a Christian person with a conscience, which among other things drive the man to find the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He cares about truth as part of his commitment to his God.
This novel is breeze and is a quick read compared to others in this series, as it is only 247 pages and does not have a lot of confusing subplots, though it will keep you guessing to the end. Oh what a subtle web we weave, his mysteries to perform….. This makes for good summer reading, but it also deals graphically with some dark subjects like evil incarnate in the form of murder and poisoning. Nevertheless, as long as Hugh Corbett is on the case, ‘the Prince of Darkness’ will be kept at bay, or at least baying. Try this one first if you have not read the others, as its brevity and levity commends it as a good Whitman’s sampler of the genre.