At the end of 2011, Severn House published Bloodstone by Paul Doherty, set in medieval London and featuring Dominican Friar, Brother Athelstan. It had been eight years since the last entry in the series and so the author wrote a background article setting the scene. Here is the article for anybody who missed it, or for those of you who are looking for a new historical mystery series to read.
London can be a dangerous, murderous place but no more so than in the icy winter of 1380. Medieval London seethed with unrest. The gangs, the hordes of wolfsheads and the rest of the swarming low life hungered for easy pickings. They waited for the Great Revolt when the peasants in the surrounding shires would rise in bloody rebellion against the Crown. London would descend into chaos. The prospect of wholesale looting and pillaging was a very real danger. People were choosing sides, be it Sir Robert Kilverby locked in his secure chamber in Cheapside, or the monks at the Abbey of St Fulcher-on-Thames. Murder would sharpen such choices. Kilverby is found dead, poisoned, yet there is no evidence as to who was responsible or how the assassin struck. Meanwhile, at St Fulcher’s, retired members of the Wyvern Company, former archers who served in France, are being gruesomely slaughtered. All these murders seem to be connected to an exquisitely beautiful ruby – the Bloodstone. The Coroner of London, Sir John Cranston, together with his clerk the Dominican friar, Brother Athelstan, have to investigate.
BLOODSTONE evokes all the grandeur and grimness, the sanctity and the sheer corruption of medieval life. BLOODSTONE is the eleventh of the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan and, like its predecessors, is based on original research. Sir John Cranston, the Coroner, deals with cases which a medieval coroner had to sift through, and they were often very busy!
London, with its narrow, ill-lit streets, its many taverns, inns and ale-houses was a violent city. Men and women went armed, be it with bows and arrows, swords, clubs and a wide range of daggers. Murder could erupt over the roll of a dice, or the wrong word to the wrong person at the wrong time.
For those who did commit murder there would be summary justice, followed by a hanging at the Elms at Smithfield or at the Forks by Tyburn stream. Naturally, many murderers decided not to wait around. They could flee for sanctuary to one of the London churches or seek even greater protection in those sprawling enclaves of London were the law could not enter.
Two of the most popular haunts for the Utlegati, i.e. those literally beyond the law, were the sanctuary at St Martin’s Le Grand, or the great sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. These nests off iniquity were the hosting places for the robbers, conmen, rifflers and assassins, men and women who’d slit another’s throat for a mere pittance. Strange eccentric characters thrived there, spies and Judas men.
Of course, iniquity was not just the monopoly of the poor; the wealthy mansions of Cheapside and the hallowed, hollow passage-ways of the great abbeys could also be the haunt of murder. The prospect of profit, as in a great deal of human wickedness, was and is the inspiring motive. Abbeys, churches, and all religious houses across Europe dreamed of holding a great relic, be it a piece of the True Cross, (and there were enough of these to build an entire navy!) or even a feather from an angel’s wing.
The Bloodstone is one of these precious relics; it not only carries a blessing but also a powerful curse. Paul Doherty weaves all these themes into a seamless, medieval tapestry which evokes the vibrant richness and rawness of medieval life. BLOODSTONE not only poses great mysteries but is a journey back to a London much more dangerous and exciting than we could ever imagine.
Severn House has subsequently published the following titles in the Brother Athelstan series, all available in hardcover, trade paperback, large print and ebook.
Visit our site for more information on these titles.