Autumn has Arrived

4th October 2012

wp38261baa_05_06Autumn has arrived. I am always fascinated by the date, 21st September, not just because it’s my birthday but that’s the date Edward II was allegedly murdered at Berkeley Castle by his wife Isabella, Queen of England about whom I wrote my doctorate. Such a date ushers in the days of Misty Murder. I have finished ‘The Last of Days’, a novel about the dying embers of Henry VIII’s reign. I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing it. I am more and more convinced that he was a truly murderous soul who was just getting into his stride. Strange, for all Henry’s pomp and glory, there is hardly a tomb to him just a slab of concrete in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Cursed in life and cursed in death! Apparently they used the same vault to inter the remains of Charles I. They found Henry’s coffin cracked and a Cromwellian soldier tried to steal a bone for a dagger hilt.

Of course I have entered fresh meadows of murder. I am busy researching and writing a novel called ‘The Roseblood’ the first of a trilogy, set in London at the beginning of the War of the Roses. Reading about the great families who became locked in a vicious life and death struggle the Tudors, the Beauforts, the Nevilles etc, reminds me of the Mafia, each faction struggling for supremacy. This gory tale of murder and intrigue, of betrayal and battle is seen through the eyes of one London family. Interesting where this can lead you; I didn’t realise that leprosy was truly a living death in the Middle Ages or that the English occupation of northern France after 1415 was actually much worse than the Nazi occupation in 1940. I use the savagery of the English warbands, nicknamed “Les Ecorcheur – Flayers” to develop a theme of well plotted and bloody revenge culminating in the Battle of St Albans (May 1455), the first clash between York and Lancaster which ushered in the War of the Roses. Interesting, all the Lancastrian commanders sheltered in a tavern on St Albans High Street and a most murderous and intriguing scenario developed…………. Ah well, more of that next time!

My kindest regards to all readers and may your journeys into murder and mystery be both thrilling and thought provoking.

Paul Doherty O.B.E.

The Midnight Man

The Fourteenth Century was one of the most disturbing eras in our history. It was a season of war, great pestilence and horrendous violence, so much so that the people thought that both heaven and earth were being shaken to their very foundations. The words of the “Dies Irae” were real.

“O Day of Wrath, O Day of Mourning,
See fulfilled Heaven’s warning,
Heaven and Earth in ashes burning.”

If we turn in the corridor of history and peer back into that century of shadows we find men and women very similar to ourselves though with significant differences. For those who lived in the Fourteenth Century the line between the visible and invisible was very thin; sometimes this disappeared altogether. The Catholic Church truly believed it was locked in a spiritual battle with the Lords of the Air led by the Prince of Darkness and that Satan did directly intervene in human affairs. And if this wasn’t awe inspiring enough, the Church also warred against those who deliberately invoked the Powers of Hell. Time and again, the Church castigated those witches, wizards and warlocks who prowled cemeteries and haunted those derelict churches which once served communities now wiped out by the Black Death.

Of course at the same time human wickedness needed very little help! Robbery, murder and sexual misdemeanours were as rife then as they are now. London’s underworld was an extremely busy, thriving place peopled by conmen, counterfeiters, professional assassins, bogus priests and all sorts of varieties of ladies of the night. Now and again this villainy singled out some great venture or lucrative enterprise which drew in all the denizens of London’s underworld. No more was this more apparent than in 1303 when the gangs of London plotted, planned and perpetrated their greatest crime, the robbery of the Crown Jewels from the gloomy crypt beneath Westminster Abbey.

The ‘Midnight Man’ deals with all these themes, an exciting, vivid, fast-moving tale of dark designs in London around the Church of St Michael’s Candlewick many years after the “great plundering of Westminster.” Brother Anselm, a Carmelite friar, once a soldier but now his order’s most powerful exorcist, has been summoned to St Michael’s Candlewick to confront the hideous ghosts and apparitions who are plaguing that church. Anselm discovers that the reason for this demonic infestation is due to a macabre ceremony carried out by London’s most notorious warlock, the Midnight Man. Anselm, together with his novice young Stephen, enters the meadows of murder and mystery. He has to confront and unmask the ‘Midnight Man’ as well as discover the hideous crimes committed in and around St Michael’s, including the allegations about the disappearance of young women whose corpses have never been found. Anselm and Stephen begin their hunt which takes them to sinister cemeteries, haunted abbeys and churches. They travel the packed, colourful streets of Cheapside as well as the macabre, desolate wastelands of the city. The ‘Midnight Man’ proves to be a most cunning ruthless opponent who exploits a series of mysterious murders to protect both himself and his coven.

The ‘Midnight Man’ is the Physician’s tale as he travels with Chaucer’s pilgrims from the ‘Tabard’ in Southwark to pray before the blissful bones of Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. The Physician’s eerie tale is well known to some of the mysterious pilgrims who have a great deal to hide since that ‘great hurling’ time around St. Michael’s Candlewick. The ‘Midnight Man’ is a heart-chilling story of wolfish souls locked in tangled intrigue, played out against all the vivid colour and hectic bustle of medieval life, be it the opulent mansions of Cheapside, or the shadowfields, the gloomy, narrow lanes of the wolfsheads’ sanctuary in Whitefriars. I hope “The Midnight Man” will prove to be a very worthy addition to the Canterbury Tales series.

The Dead do Speak to the Living

9th March 2012

Lord how time flies! We are in March and soon we will be celebrating the rites of Spring. The Ides of March are also fast approaching: the season for murder. ‘Bloodstone’ has been out for months and done very well. Many thanks for your kind comments. ‘The Midnight Man’, the Physician’s tale as he goes on pilgrimage to venerate Becket’s blissful bones at Canterbury is to be published soon. The Canterbury Tales cover a wide range of themes. Some are murder mysteries, others are historical mysteries and a third strain is what I would call Gothic. The ‘Midnight Man’ firmly belongs to this last category. You can’t blame me, the medieval period is ideal for the Gothic! I mean pinched white faces peering out form black cowls in candlelit choir stalls under the arching roof of some sombre cathedral! Statues, gargoyles and babewyns staring stonily down at you from some shadowy recess or niche. Castle towers rising up against gathering storm clouds. Dark garbed riders, cloaks billowing out, thundering along some moonlit road. Ghostly ships battling against swelling seas. The ‘Midnight Man’ is a true recreation of all these great Gothic images. Yet in other ways it also reflects ordinary medieval life and attitudes. Our brothers and sisters down the long, dusty passage of the years were very much like us with their loves and hates, likes and dislikes, fears and phobias. Of course there are the accidental differences. The vast array of modern communication was not available to them, yet they could plot and murder with as much relish as we do today. There was one great difference. For medieval man and woman the line between the visible and invisible was very thin. Sometimes it disappeared all together. Devils and demons roamed the spiritual wastelands but they could also easily cross into our reality. The ‘Midnight Man’ explores this against a background of macabre murder. On a more historical basis the story is also rooted in the Great Crown Jewels Robbery of 1303 when an enterprising London gang broke into the royal treasure house in the great fortified crypt of Westminster Abbey. Now that is a genuine spine-tingling tale, but it will be the subject of the next blog……

For the rest I am still working on the last days of Henry VIII. I’ve come across some very interesting facts.

  • Henry VIII’s corpse was certainly rushed to the grave at Westminster. Did you know, following a friar’s curse, that Henry’s body burst in its coffin at Syon-on-Thames and dogs came to lick up the juices?!
  • Did you know his death was kept secret for three days?
  • Isn’t it strange that all Henry’s physicians and apothecaries were richly rewarded afterwards?
  • Did you know that Henry’s signature was being forged on whatever documents were necessary?
  • Did you know Henry spent his final days surrounded by the forfeited possessions of all those he executed? He even gave his fool, Will Somers, Cromwell’s purse.
  • Did you know that there are two versions of his death, a Catholic version and a Protestant one? I shall also return to this next time.

Kind regards, good reading.

Paul Doherty

War of the Roses

THE MIDNIGHT MAN has now just been published. I am very pleased with it; I just hope you readers agree! I do think the medieval era lends itself to both the Gothic and the Ghoulish as well as providing a marvellous stage on which to develop a complex murder mystery. I am also working on the final draft of my novel about the last days of Henry VIII (THE LAST OF DAYS). I have studied this monster time and again, he can still surprise me! In 1513 James IV was killed at Flodden; his corpse was found by Henry’s commander, Surrey, and brought to London after being embalmed at Berwick. However, probably because he was excommunicated, James’s corpse was never buried but kept in a cellar right up into the reign of Elizabeth I. Apparently some workmen found it and played football with the head. Eventually it was given some form of Christian burial in a London church.

Nevertheless, if Henry was bad, those who surrounded him, e.g. the Dudleys and the Seymours, were no better. They do remind me of the Mafioso: they have that same combination of superficial religion and deep psychopathic tendencies. Indeed this is my view of many of the nobility at the time which, hopefully, I will explore in greater depth in my planned novel on the War of the Roses. I don’t think this idea is far-fetched. When I was studying for my doctorate at Oxford, I remember getting into constant trouble because I had developed such a theory! Nevertheless, the facts speak for themselves, nor do I think it was just the nobles. It is surprising how quickly certain powerful London merchants could whistle up their gangs, the “rifflers”, the “roaring boys”, the “squires of the sewers”, to create mayhem and murder. Gangland bosses may be a 20th century term, but they were certainly alive and well and flourishing most murderously in the 15th century. Prime examples are the Woodvilles. The voluptuous Elizabeth Woodville ensnared Edward IV into marriage and this immediately brought her family into confrontation with the factions and gangs of her husband’s two brothers, George of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester. I look forward to developing this in the very near future in a suitably murderous medieval way!

Kindest regards to you,

Paul Doherty OBE

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