One of the main reasons to read a whole series of novels by a good writer is to watch how not only the characters develop, but also how the author ups his game. By my count, The Demon Archer is the 11th in the series of Hugh Corbett medieval murder mysteries, and we see the author in full stride here, his powers of description keen. Most all of Doherty’s novels have some sort of historical core or kernel to them, and this novel is no different. Only this time the historical kernel is in the background rather than the foreground of the story, about the murder of a leigelord— Sir Henry Fitzalan.
If you like novels that deal with the forests of England (e.g. Robin Hood), then you will like this novel about the forests of Sussex. You meet all sorts of interesting forest dwellers including hermits and those called wolfsheads. The novel seems to center around a forest figure called Owlman, but in fact the story is mostly about lechery and the murder of prostitutes. Hugh Corbett must unravel who the real killer is of Sir Henry and the prostitutes, and be prepared for a surprise ending. There is also the humorous story of how Ranulf, Corbett’s dashing right hand man, falls head over heels in love with the lovely Alicia, who frankly is out of his league.
I like these novels for a lot of reasons, not least is the glimpse we get of the good, the bad, and the ugly of medieval Christianity, particularly in monasteries and nunneries around England. Doherty knows the history well, and he does not spare the church when it ought to be critiqued. This novel is not as suspense-filled as some in the series (see my review of Murder Wears a Cowl), but it is still a very good read, indeed.