14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Harding's Puzzle Is Well Played!,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Assassin's Riddle (The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan) (Paperback)
It's no riddle as to whether the seventh--and possibly final--episode of Paul Harding's "The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan" is an exciting read or not. It is! In "The Assassin's Riddle," Harding continues the escapades, adventures, and good deeds of Brother Athelstan, the Dominican friar of St. Erconwald's parish in Southwark in fourteenth century London. Harding forwards his usual cast of characters in this medieval mystery and, once again, we find them abroil in yet another set of mysteries. Someone is killing off the clerks at the Chancery of the Green Wax; someone has stolen a fortune in silver from the Crown, committing murder at the same time; there has appeared a holy mystery at the church: a crucifix that bleeds; and the Bishop is thinking of transferring Athelstan to Oxford. And who is better suited to solve these mysteries than Brother Athelstan, parish priest and secretarius to Sir John Cranston, the King's Coroner for the City of London! Naturally, pressure is applied from the Crown, in the form of the Regent, John of Gaunt, to have the killings stopped and (most important to John) to get the silver back. These murders are always accompanied by a riddle, the solution of which, as the good friar knows, will reveal the murderer. Athelstan knows there is a connection between the killings and the theft. And problems appear to come in threes, as his own parishioners, Pike the ditcher, Watkin the dung collector, and Huddle the painter, have found a crucifix that bleeds, indeed a miracle, and they put forth efforts to cash in on its possibilities. Athelstan, knowing his congregation, doubts its authenticity. The relationship between Athelstan, who loves riddles and other cerebral conundrums, is the alter ego of Sir John, whom Harding describes as a man who loves "his wife, his twin sons, his dogs, and especially this gentle friar with the sharp brain and dry sense of humor." As Cranston tells his wife, "I can number my friends on one hand and still have enough fingers left to make a rude gesture at the Regent. Athelstan's my friend." And it is this relationship that is one of the major attributes of Harding's series. As in the previous two books, there is a question as to whether Athelstan will stay at St. Erconwald's (for one, he is immensely popular with his parishioners, and both the Bishop and the Regent fear this popularity; for another, the Bishop feels his brilliance would be better served lecturing to the students at Oxford). Another strong point of Harding's writing is the authentic description of the times, from the grime and refuse of the city's streets to its inhuman treatment of its poor and criminals to addressing health problems of the time, particularly the plague. He also scores points with his sensitivity of character construction: Benedicta the widow, Ursula the pig woman and her pet sow, the Fisher of Men, and Athelstan's devoted horse Philomel and cat Bonaventure. The author does not hesitate to put forth the goodness in Athelstan, who has the ability to see goodness in others, often in the least expected places. "The Assassin's Riddle" may well be the last of this series (one hopes not), but it is not a puzzle that goes unsolved. It's a quick read--as is the entire series-- but it is not a puzzle that goes unsolved. It's well worth the little effort it takes to read it.
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