on 4 May 2004
An apparenty saintly monk, Roger Atworth has died, and a series of miracles have occured at his tomb. The order of which he was a member is hoping Roger will be made a saint, but the Archbishop of Canterbury is not keen on the idea ,he doesn't want any rival saints taking away revenue from the shrine of Thomas a Becket. So he appoints Kathryn Swinbrooke, physician and apothecary, as Devil's Advocate, her job being to argue against the beatification of Roger. Kathryn is also worried about a plague of rats that are infesting Canterbury, not to mention her personal worry over whether her abusive husband is still alive. Is she or is she not free to marry her hunky Irish boyfriend, Colum, Master of the King's horse? This is the latest volume in a very enjoyable series, Kathryn is a likeable character, though perhaps a little too good to be true, some of her opinions seem a little too modern (would any 15th century person really be so sceptical about ghosts, miracles etc?). There are some interesting supporting characters too, and the atmosphere of medieval Canterbury is vividly evoked. You learn some intersting things about the Middle Ages from this series, medical practices in those days were more effective than we realise, and there were apparently women practicing medicine then. A pity this entertaining series is not available in paperback, it should have a winder audience.
C. L. Grace is a pseudonym for the author Paul Doherty, who also writes under several other pen names, Michael Clynes, Paul Harding etc. He has to be the most prolific author writing today and it mystifies me how he has had the time consuming position of head teacher at a school in the south of England and write such well researched books, for that is what they are. Whether he is writing about medieval England, Ancient Greece, Rome or Egypt he is more than adept at setting the scene accurately for the reader. However for me his always in his element when writing about the medieval period.
This set of novels feature the medieval physician Kathryn Swinbrooke and are good light reading. The idea of using a woman healer as the lead character sets them apart from many other books, and Kathryn is a likable and believable character. I say believable because at the period that the books were written history would have us believe that dabbling in medicine of any kind was tantamount to a woman admitting she was in league with the devil.
Kathryn has been recalled to Canterbury and is beleaguered by problems, not least whether her erstwhile and vindictive husband is still alive. Also the Archbishop requires her help in assessing whether a recently dead monk deserves to be made a saint, something that for his own reasons the Archbishop is none too keen on and last but not least for her to investigate why Canterbury should recently have had a plague of rats.
Business has been poor recently at the shrine of Thomas a Becket and the dwindling stream of pilgrims visiting the city has dropped to a trickle not only because of the rats but because of several pilgrims being poisoned not too long ago (see a Shrine of Murders). Because of this and other problems the cunning Archbishop does not want a new saint detracting from Becket's shrine and instructs Kathryn to do everything her persuasive nature can think of to stop this happening.
Kathryn's investigative skills soon lead her towards the fact that the monk did not die of natural causes by was in fact murdered and the hunt is soon on for the killer.
There is much to enjoy in these books not least the author's writing style, attention to detail and the backdrop of medieval Canterbury. Needless to say the author's research into the period he is writing about is second to none.