'The Prince of Darkness' Grim……..

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.

  • CJ Tan

    Dear Dr Ben,

    Give me a good historical novel anytime!

    See if you agree with Doug Wilson on writing:

    CJ Tan

  • http://www.oscarsflickpicks.com Oscar

    Upon your recommendation I decided to give the author a go, but since this is a series I purchased the first Hugh Corbett story, “Satan In St. Mary’s”, from Amazon. The shipping cost was more than the book!

    Apparently the author hadn’t yet hit his stride because aside from the sexual situations the novel read like a “young adult” novel. The arch-enemy in this one was easily guessed and the mystery was no mystery for the thinking person.

    I think I’ll try one more, but further on in the series, before I abandon Mr. Doherty altogether. Just not my cup of mead, so to speak.

  • Ben Witherington

    Yes, you are right Oscar, he has developed as a writer in various good ways over time. Try for example Nightshade.


  • James Mace

    Thanks for an interesting read, Ben, and I’d like to give this chap a try.

    Piers Gaveston was the first husband of my grandmother Margaret de Clare (niece of Edward II), so I have done some study in the period, Therefore I question the received “truth” of Edward’s sodomy.

    Recent decades have seen the homosexual agenda to legitimate themselves by “Sodomizing” historical characters who were not really homosexual. E.g., Michelangelo is made to be writing of homosexual lust when he writes poems (which I have read) of the more spiritual love of friendship. There is debate whether Edward is not similarly slandered.

    I wonder if that is not the case with uncle Edward and Piers? They may have had an “adoptive brotherhood” like the relationship between David and Jonathan. Of course now the Sodomists are capitalizing on propaganda from the Despensers in their war against the de Clares, as well as later Lancastrian polemics, who had an interest in delegitimating Edward II.

    It is interesting that what was once political delegitimation may now have perversely become a tool of legitimation by Sodomists. I hope we in the Church are discerning enough to resist manipulation by both agendas.

  • http://facebook.com/beirne1 DaveAlan

    Doherty has a series based on Canterbury Tales, where the characters stop for the night and tell scarey stories. “An Ancient Evil” is a lot of fun.

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