Sometimes it is a help to a writer like myself, or at least a relief, to discover that other writers also learned on the job, honed their craft over time, and became better novelists as time went on. Crown in Darkness is an early Hugh Corbett mystery set in Scotland involving solving a mysterious regicide and it shows some of the talismans of an early novel. Here is the description on Amazon—-
1286 and on a storm-ridden night King Alexander III of Scotland is riding across the Firth of Forth to meet his beautiful French bride Yolande. He never reaches his final destination as his horse mysteriously slips, sending them both crashing to their death on cruel rocks. The Scottish throne is left vacant of any real heir and immediately the great European princes and the powerful nobles of Alexander’s kingdom start fighting for the glittering prize. The Chancellor of England, Burnell, ever mindful of the interest his king, Edward I, has in Scotland, sends his faithful clerk, Hugh Corbett, to report on the chaotic situation at the Scottish court. Concerned that a connection exists between the king’s death and those now desirous of taking the Scottish throne, Corbett is drawn into a maelstrom of intrigue, conspiracy and danger.
Despite the fact that this novel has some wordy patches, and a few implausibilities hither and yon, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel which came out first in 1991 because of its expert recreating of 13th century life in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh and southern Scotland. It helped me to understand the tribal nature of Scotland at the time, the machinations of the French and English kings, and the plight of women caught up in the royal game of king making. Another enjoyable aspect of this novel is watching the logical nature of Corbett’s mind as he assembles evidence piece by piece and then has to make logical sense of it all. One of the more interesting features of this novel is that Corbett is in fact not on assignment from the king but rather from one of the kings underlings which makes the job more difficult when it comes to the question who he should be most loyal too, if the evidence goes against his own King Edward. The French and their plottings are not made any more palatable in this novel than in the other Doughtery novels in which they appear.
To me one of the great lessons in all these Doherty novels is not just that religion and politics have always been bedfellows, but that details matter, often matter critically when lives are hanging in the balance, or will be hanging from a noose when a murder has been committed. The effect of Christianity on all these political maneuverings is often in question, and seen to be minimal. But this is not true with Hugh Corbett our hero, for whom truth and justice are his bywords, his code of conduct, the thing that gets him up in the morning and allows him to sleep with a good conscience at night. This novel is a quick read, and good summer fare for one and all.