Another P. C. Doherty historical mystery, this time set in medieval England, in the early 14th century and towards the end of the reign of Edward I. The focus is on his continual efforts to trump Philip IV of France, and the works of Roger Bacon. Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal and the eyes and ears of King Edward I, serves as the intelligent academic and criminologist.
It begins, as every good mystery should, with a death, here following a theft of a copy of Bacon's Secretus Secretorum (a lovely play on Secretum Secretorum) from the French. The basis of the plot? Decode Bacon's, a priest and scientist, work by finding the key to his book because it's all written in code, and ultimately shift the balances of power in the favor of the one that makes the discovery first! Both Kings send envoys, academics led by a shrewd politician, to try and figure this out through mutual cooperation, but foul play is suspected in achieving these ends as people begin to die in this cold winter castle, isolated and surrounded by dangerous forests.
History is again made fascinating as the practices and traditions of the time are portrayed with admirable accuracy. It is bloody and gory, dirty and cold, disgusting and enchanting all at the same time. There is the element of the comic in the form of Ranulf-atte-Newgate, Corbett's most trusted aid and bodyguard, and fellow henchmen, who are all generally very well educated. As with most of Doherty's novels, the story has a sub-plot that serves as an important factor to the main plot. There is the killing of young maidens here, the misunderstood outlaws, the bearded traveling business men that inhabit a table at a local tavern in the middle of winter, the pirates who are too close to shore for comfort, the annoying French envoy, deCraon who swears that the deaths of his companions are all due to natural causes, and the evasive key to Bacon's work.
It is the simplicity of the approach in story telling that has drawn me to Doherty's books, this being my second (yes, I am aware that I'm still a Doherty newbie, but I appreciate him nonetheless). There are several smaller issues that you must pay attention to, and smaller characters, as it all converges quite amazingly in the end. It also has vast volumes of information. If it's not in the book at least you are driven to find out more about it, I know am! I enjoyed this book so much that I may end up buying the whole set of his mystery series - all of them!