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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 March 2014
This has been an excellent last couple of years for lovers of the 'Sorrowful Mysteries' series. Short stories available on Kindle and three new novels of which this is the third in fairly short order. Rather like Michael Jecks series set in the earlier part of the 14th century (Sir Baldwin & Bailiff Puttock and the machinations of the Edwardian Court, the DeSpensers and Queen Isabella) the 'Sorrowful Mysteries' (with the diminutive dominican friar Athelstan and the redoubtable Sir John Cranston) are beginning to move inexorably towards a another critical point in 14th century history, that of the peasants revolt of 1381.

As is usual there is malice afoot in the Southwark runnels and stews and several of the Kings tax collectors and information gatherers are dead. Money is involved and the 'Great Community of the Realm' in the form of the Upright Men are beginning to flex their muscle in the home counties. Athelstan and Cranston are tasked with sorting out this mess and making sense of what has happened. In the meantime Athelstan's parishioners are up to their usual furtive necks in the shennanigans and get caught in the middle of what's going on - enough spoilers now, you'll need to buy the book to find out what happens.

Doherty in all his guises and psuedonyms is one of my goto historical mystery writers and I remain aghast that the 'Sorrowful Mysteries' has never been picked up as a TV series. All of the books are wickedly plotted and rich in almost Dickensian detail of the life of 1370's and 80's London. Maybe I'm a bit biased because when I pick up one of these books to read I generally go for total immersion and only re-appear when I've read it from cover to cover, that way I don't break the spell of seeing and hearing the sights and sounds and the smells and taste of the period. The relationships between all of the various protagonists are well described and the historical detail accurate within given artistic license. I'm hoping there are some more mysteries in the pipeline as we head toward the confrontation at Smithfield in June of that year.
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In this, which I think is the thirteenth Brother Athelstan mystery, the medieval sleuth and man of God finds himself called upon by the Regent, John of Gaunt once again. In the previous Brother Athelstan mystery, The Straw Men, it was becoming more evident that the Upright Men, those who call themselves the protectors of the community against the rule of the lords, are getting stronger and have support in those in high places. In this story, Gaunt’s tax collectors themselves are attacked – brutally murdered at a tavern, The Candle-Flame. Gaunt demands Brother Athelstan find who is responsible.

I love these books; I’ve read every one avidly, and they just keep getting better. Brother Athelstan is a long-suffering peaceful man whose ability to sniff out murderers and malcontents makes him invaluable to his masters, but he’d really rather be left alone with his ragtag community. The fourteenth-century London scenes seem to roll off the page – sound, smell, sight and everyday horror that were so taken for granted then seem to leap out in front of the reader and shock and astound, as well as entertain. The character of John of Gaunt is truly frightening in these books; a man who will brook no opposition and has a way of making things happen, I have no doubt believing that he would really have been like that.

As always in these books, the mystery is such that the reader is kept in the dark till right at the end, when Brother Athelstan patiently puts us out of our misery. His ability to move through the darkest nights and murderous byways makes Brother Athelstan a treasure – and one that die-hard fans look forward to reading more about in books to come.

Paul Doherty is a prolific author, and also writes under the pseudonyms of Anna Apostolou, Michael Clynes, Ann Dukthas, C L Grace, Paul Harding and Vanessa Alexander. His books cover historical periods from Ancient Egypt through Medieval England, Ancient Rome and the world of Alexander the Great. They’re all great books, and if you can keep up with his output of novels, you’ll be a happy historical novel reader for a very long time.
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on 3 May 2014
I really am missing the interplay between the good brother and Sir John. The focus was on the good brother and Sir John was left out for the most part. He had no real hand in the solving of the mystery. That too was important to the early books in the series. Sir John and his marvelous wineskin should be put back into the central story line.
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on 8 July 2014
Did Dr Doherty dash this one off due to high demand? I have loved this series from the first,sometimes feeling the descriptions a little overdone,but not too much. With this one I was skimming page after page of pointless "filling in". By the time I found the story again I'd lost the flow. Bit of a personality transplant for the little friar too I think and not much for Sir John to do except smack his lips.(Again!!!)
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on 1 July 2014
Overall, I thought this was a lovely historical book with a lot of mystery and interesting plot twists. The hero of the book is quite vibrant and gave me a reason to want to keep exploring the depths of London from long ago.

I would have liked to have seen a bit more variation in the choice of adjectives for things, as many were repeatedly used. Still, the writing was solid and the story had a good pace. I enjoyed the descriptions of the city and the actions of the characters matched their personalities.

I really appreciated the way the author pulled the back story into the present time in this book. It was handled so well that everything came out smooth and seamless.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, this one is sure to please you.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from Netgalley and the publisher.
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on 1 April 2014
One of Paul Doherty's best books. Gripping, non-stop writing! I had to finish reading it-could not put it down. 5 Stars!
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on 11 April 2014
I have seen these historical mystery novels featuring the Dominican friar Brother Athelstan and the Lord High Coroner in the City of London, Sir John Cranston and have even bought several of the books, but just haven't gotten around to reading them yet. This 13th book in the series was as good a place to start as any because author Paul Doherty made it easy for me to catch up on the lives of those who make the environs around St. Erconwald their home. In this novel there is great civil unrest in London because of the taxation burden under the rule of John of Gaunt, serving as regent because of the youthful age of his nephew, the King. The city is now home to the Great Community of the Realm; being led by the Upright Men with help from the Earthworms and those lowliest of citizens who are overburdened and overtaxed to the point of starvation. When one of the tax collectors is killed inside an impregnable Barbican on the grounds of The Candle-Flame tavern and inn Sir John and Athelstan are called on to solve the ultimate locked room mystery. All those both inside and guards outside the Barbican are dead and yet it is not possible for anyone to have gained entry. A tangled web, indeed, for these two staunch seekers of truth and justice.

I like to feel that I am solving a mystery along with the protagonists in a story. In this case, even though I definitely enjoyed the book, there was not much hope of me ever getting this one right. I can't say any more than that without revealing things which readers will want to discover for themselves, but I will tell you that you will deserve several pats on the back if you can unravel this plot before you reach the end of the story. At some points the novel tried my patience, mostly by things such as overly long lists of all the various activities happening on the streets of London between one point and another. When you've read about one chamber pot being emptied down on the heads of pedestrians you've pretty much gotten the picture of that. At least, I had. I enjoy description, but not when it goes on for so long that I become impatient with it and want to move on. This did seem to be a habit engaged in by the author quite often.

If you are very familiar with the poem Beowulf, you will enjoy this novel where a Beowulf-like character is referred to on a regular basis. If you have forgotten your study of Beowulf, as I generally had, some of the dialogue may float over your head and you will miss clues. I liked my initial foray into the world of Brother Athelstan and I'm sure regular readers of the series will find this addition to be every bit as well written as previous novels. I still can't help but feel there was too much circumstantial evidence used in solving the case, but this may be standard procedure in these novels. I will definitely go looking for those books I already own and check out other cases solved by this intriguing pair of sleuths.

I received an ARC of this novel through NetGalley. The opinions expressed are my own.
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on 11 May 2015
The 13th volume of the fantastic Brother Athelstan series is certainly another one to treasure.
As always Paul Doherty has managed to bring London in the late 14th Century vividly to life with it's own feel and atmosphere of these medieval times.
The storytelling is again of the highest quality and the mystery itself is really fantastic and exciting from start to finish, and so making this book a real page-turner.
The story itself is set in February in the year AD 1381 and the story really begins when the Regent, John of Gaunt, is demanding ever increasing taxes, so much so that people will spark into flame and total resentment.
This unrest will result in a bloody massacre at a Southwark tavern, The Candle-Flame, in which nine people are killed, including Gaunt's tax collectors and their military escorts.
And so Brother Athelstan is ordered by John of Gaunt to investigate these killings, because not only has Gaunt's treasure been stolen, the Regent also believes that there's a French spy active along the Thames, while at the same time there's a professional assassin, Beowulf, on the loose who has sworn vengeance against Gaunt and his minions.
This is another top-notch murder mystery which is packed with great storytelling and excitement, making this Candle Flame "A Bright Light Tale"!
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on 19 August 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I have enjoyed all the other Athelstan books. An intersesting and intriguing story which is well written as always. Gaunt is his usual self yet his henchmen seem to have a rough time of it! The Peasants Revolt is getting closer and the members of the movement are becoming ever bolder, with some of Athelstan's flock heavily invovled.
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on 21 April 2014
It is hard to maintain the quality of a long-running series, but Paul Doherty achives this with his latest volume in the 'Brother Athelstan' series. The plot is interesting the the historical background, as ever, is sharp and informative. This is an excellent way for those without any background in history to familiarise themselves with a somewhat difficult period.
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