Newsletter July 2018

Greetings to all my readers both at home and abroad. My deepest apologies for not being in touch sooner, but its been a very hectic year in education and there has been a gap in my novels published by both Severn House and Hodder Headline.

My last Athelstan novel “the Mansions of Murder,” was about the rifflers, the great gangs which could, and did, terrify the living daylights out of Medieval London. One chronicler called them, “The many headed beast.” What made the situation even more dangerous was that the great lords and the powerful men of the city, were not above using the London mob for their own nefarious ends.

I have submitted another Athelstan novel, “The Godless.” My publishers at Severn House are delighted with it. This time Athelstan has to confront and deal with serious sins and cruel crimes from the past. Edward III and his son the Black Prince led their armies into France and, for many English soldiers it was open season when it came to plunder, taking ransoms and ransacking castles, towns, churches or whatever was at hand. A flow of wealth from France to England made many a family’s fortune. However, such abominations do not go away. They lurk in the darkest recesses then spring like a trap as the past catches up with those responsible for unatoned sins. In “The Godless” Athelstan and Cranston become more than aware of these ancient blood-reeking crimes as well the existence of a most sinister serial killer, the Oriflamme who committed hideous acts along the banks of the river Seine in Normandy and has now appeared in London sowing a fresh harvest of murder along the Thames.

My most recent novel published at the end of June marks a change. “Dark Queen Rising” is about Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII and, in my view, the real founder of the Tudor dynasty. In 1471, as the opening of my novel describes, the fortunes of Tudor and the House of Lancaster were completely shattered by the great Yorkist victory at Tewksbury. This violent battle brought down most of the leading Lancastrians whilst Henry Tudor could only save himself by fleeing abroad. Margaret, however, does not give up her dream of making her son king. Despite the opposition of the charismatic Edward of York, his warlike brother Richard of Gloucester and the deep, twisted cunning of George Clarence, Margaret will plot until the Wheel of Fortune is given another spin. Clarence proves to be a most vicious enemy. He sees his struggle with Margaret as a fight to the death and Margaret responds in kind. Clarence can call on all the power of the crown and the support of his warlike brothers. Margaret has to depend on faithful clerks, men such as Reginald Bray and, above all Christopher Urswicke. Margaret’s greatest weapon however, are her own keen brain and very sharp wits. Margaret, in my novel as she was in real life, is depicted as a most redoubtable woman. A patron of the arts (she founded colleges at Cambridge), a very shrewd administrator and, in the last resort, the most skilful intriguer. Margaret with the help of Urswicke intends to bring the House of York to destruction and the true claims of her own son, recognised and accepted. In the main, the novel is presented from the viewpoint of Urswicke, a true henchman of his mistress and as cunning and ruthless as her. Urswicke in fact fully deserves his reputation of being the founder of the English Secret Service…….

I do hope you enjoy all these books. At the moment I am working on a new Corbett, “The Valley of Shadows,” where Corbett is imprisoned in a snow-bound abbey fortress…. But more of that next time! Until then, happy reading.

My kindest regards to you all,

Paul Doherty OBE

Newsletter September 2017

Dear Friend,

I hope this newsletter finds you well and that you and yours had a most enjoyable summer.  I am looking forward to the publication of a new Athelstan novel ‘The Mansions of Murder’ (Severn House) as well as the “Devil’s Wolf” (Hodder Headline).  Both books should be on the market by December. ‘The Mansions of Murder’ will lead you into the truly, hellish life of medieval London.  It has already received excellent reviews and I am pleased to copy one from Kirkus: it reads as follows:

“A Dominican friar well-versed in puzzles must solve a locked-room murder.John of Gaunt has managed to quell the rebellion of 1381, and his nephew Richard II sits upon a throne coveted by many noble lords. As London seethes with revolutionaries, thieves, whores, and murderers, Martha, the housekeeper of St. Benet’s, finds the doors of the ancient church locked from the inside. Breaking in, the curate and others find both the priest and a retainer of the powerful Lord of Arundel stabbed to death, a large amount of coin missing, and the corpse of Simon Makepeace’s mother. Makepeace, a vicious murderer known as the Flesher, who heads the worst gang in London, is furious about the double loss of his mother and his gold, which was kept hidden in the church. Back in his own parish, Brother Athelstan is informed by his housekeeper, Benedicta, of her own strange discovery: the embalmed bodies of the husband and son of Margo, a recently deceased widow, seated at a table in the hidden cellar of her cottage. Athelstan, who’s long helped powerful coroner Sir John Cranston solve crimes (The Herald of Hell, 2016, etc.), joins him now to solve the locked-church murder. They soon realize that the two mysterious discoveries are related by more than mystery. Margo’s family were archers who had served with Sir John on a special mission to claim the Rose Casket and its contents of precious stones known as the Twelve Apostles as reparations from France. Their vessel was attacked, probably by the Flesher, and sunk, and the great treasure vanished, though rumors of its reappearance abound. Both Sir John’s and Athelstan’s skills are stretched to the limit as they work to solve several crimes, recover the treasure, and somehow bring down the powerful Flesher. A clever mystery neatly woven into a historically accurate rendering of life in a truly hellish London.”

I described “Devil’s Wolf” in my last newsletter. Sir Hugh Corbett is busy along the Scottish March and is caught up in the horrifying war between the English Crown and the House of Bruce.  It’s a change of location for Corbett but life is still very dangerous. Murder and treachery certainly walk the lonely moors of Northumberland as they do the dingy streets of medieval London.  At present I am working on a completely new novel “Dark Queen Rising”.  I have always been fascinated by the way Nemesis stalked the House of York between 1471 and 1485.  In 1471 Edward of York and his family emerged totally victorious from the vicious struggle now known as the War of the Roses and yet 14 years later, everything collapsed.  I have always thought some dark genius plotted this downfall and I couldn’t think of a more suitable person than the highly intelligent and very subtle Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother of the future Henry VII.  In my view, Margaret Beaufort plotted against York with a sole aim of ensuring her son succeeded to the English Crown.  In this she was most ably assisted by two trusted clerks, Reginald Bray and Christopher Urswicke, some people regard the latter as the founder of the English Secret Service.  I thoroughly enjoyed researching this book and then writing it.  Margaret Beaufort is a truly fascinating woman and I do hope that this first novel in a series (“Dark Queen Rising”) proves to be successful.  Anyway, I will keep you posted. Until then happy reading!

Kindest regards to you and yours,

Paul Doherty OBE

Newsletter January 2017

A very happy New Year to all of you. I hope you had a wonderful festive season. I am afraid mine was dominated by the death of my beloved wife Carla. She was diagnosed with Myeloma, a very aggressive blood cancer in the spring of 2015. She died on 6th December, her requiem being celebrated on the 21st. I must mention this as I feel that I cannot ignore something which has had such a lasting impact.

I do find a refuge in writing. I have just submitted a new Corbett novel, “Devil’s Wolf”. This is set in 1311 and I have moved Corbett to the Scottish March where a savage war raged between Edward II of England and Robert the Bruce of Scotland.  At the same time the powerful Percy family had moved from Yorkshire, they had purchased the great castle of Alnwick intending to found a dynasty which would be based on the kingdom’s most formidable fortresses. The Percys had their own ideas about who should rule the north. Accordingly, I began to research material I first studied decades ago.  What struck me was the sheer ferocity of that border war.  No quarter or mercy was shown to prisoners or to women and children.  We have Wallace hanged, drawn and quartered at Smithfield. Scottish ladies imprisoned in cages on castle walls. English prisoners like Cressingham skinned and the skin being used to fashion a belt. Against this terrible backdrop, Corbett has to hunt a killer across a landscape ravaged by war.  The climax of the novel culminates in the great priory at Tynemouth which was the scene of so many dramatic events during Edward II’s reign.

I am also finishing a new Athelstan “The Mansion of Murder.”  Of course, the Great Revolt has now finished but a new danger has emerged in London, the criminal gangs or “Rifflers.” I assure you these are not a figment of my imagination.  The great lords of both court and council could whistle up these gangs very swiftly with devastating effect.  One example will suffice: in 1326 Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, landed in Essex determined to depose Edward II and execute his favourite the Despensers.  Mortimer had tremendous influence over the rifflers in London, (after all Mortimer was one of the few people to successfully escape from the Tower, a dramatic story in itself).  Mortimer’s agents slipped into London. The mob was roused, law and order collapsed so swiftly that Walter Stapleton, Chancellor or the Exchequer (and the founder of my college at Oxford) was caught unawares near St. Paul’s.  He and two of his squires were seized by the mob and executed. The riffler chieftains sent Stapleton’s head to Isabella who had the good grace and sense not to accept it. However, the ferocity of the mob and the speed with which it acted, always fascinated me. “The Mansion of Murder” explores this theme and I am sure you will enjoy it.  For the rest, life goes on. I am back at school and I am plotting a new line based around that remarkable woman Margaret Beaufort, but that’s for the future. Anyway, I thank you for reading this gentle reader!  I do wish you “Pax et bonum” for 2017.

Kindest regards,

Paul Doherty OBE


February 2015
To All My Readers
The festive season has come and gone; I hope for all of you it was a time of rejoicing, merriment and happiness. I certainly looked forward to this wonderful time spent with our every increasing family, as I do to quiet hours at my desk plotting murder, mystery and mayhem! The next Athelstan book, THE HERALD OF HELL is now finished with its sequel, THE EARTHWORMS, well on its way. The Great Peasants Revolt of 1381 is about to break out and engulf London in a frenzy of arson, robbery and murder. Athelstan however, keeps to his task, his single-minded hunt for murderers and assassins, those sons and daughters of Cain who believe they can wipe out lives, loudly protest their innocence whilst they hide their hands stained with their victims’ blood. Murder, like charity, is common to all ages and cultures; it can set up tent anywhere, be it behind the grim walls of the Tower of London, the austere, sanctified precincts of Blackfriars or the opulent luxury of Southwark’s leading brothel, “The Golden Oliphant.” Sir John Cranston, Lord High Coroner of London and his faithful Dominican secretarius Athelstan, have to enter the meadows of murder but keep a very wary eye on equally sinister developments in and around the court of the young boy king, Richard II.
The Peasants Revolt of 1381 is shrouded in mystery. Every school boy knows about Wat Tyler, one of the rebel leaders. Generations of history books have presented him as a real historical figure. Undoubtedly he existed. However, when you do research, Tyler appears to have no substance, no background. Historians have scoured the varied records of Essex and Kent but they can find no reference to him anywhere in sheriff returns, court lists, tax rolls, army musters etc. Oh, the chroniclers of the time paint their picture but there is nothing objective or empirical about Tyler. Who was this man? Where did he come from? Who supported him? How did he, this complete stranger, rise so swiftly through the ranks to command the rebel armies and so dictate terms to both King and Council? The other great mystery is John of Gaunt, self-styled Regent, uncle of the king and keeper of the kingdom. Why did Gaunt, when the revolt was about to break out, decide to launch a military campaign against the Scots? Our brethren north of the border were posing no real threat and, if they did, the powerful Percy family of Northumberland would only be too willing to check them. Indeed, when Gaunt went north and the revolt erupted in London and the surrounding shires, Gaunt was not really involved in fighting the Scots but busy in a futile quarrel with the powerful Percy lord over who was actually in charge of England’s northern march. Moreover, behind all this lies the question I posed above. Why did Gaunt leave London and his 14-year- old nephew at such a critical time? Why take much needed troops north for a shadow war? Read THE HERALD OF HELL and EARTHWORMS for my solution to all these murderous mysteries, and others!

I have now moved on to writing a sequel to DARKNESS, a Gothic novel set in ancient Rome. This macabre tale begins with the destruction of Quintilius Varus and his three legions in the Black Forest of Germany (AD 9) and the story sweeps to its climax with the siege of Masada in the Judean Desert in AD 73. I recently gave a lecture on this which fired my interest even more. The novel is gothic but is based within a historical framework as it moves from the reign of Augustus through that of Tiberius and the mad man Caligula. A haunting, gripping, truly terrifying story played out against a vivid panorama of legions massacred in a forest, the decadent luxury of the Imperial Court, battles on the sea and elsewhere, the luxurious villas of the rich and the hideous mines and haunted tombs of the Egyptian desert. I will tell you more about this next time, when once again my mind will turn to devious plots. I do hope you are all well. I truly appreciate your support. I wish you and yours every happiness and all the best for the New Year.
Kindest regards,
Dr P.C. Doherty OBE


“The Chalice is cracked…”

To All My Readers,

Please accept my profuse apologies for the silence over the last few months.  As you know, by night I plot the most horrid murders, usually based in medieval London; by day I am a Headteacher of a large high school in Woodford Green. Recently, I was approached by the local education authority and asked to take over the running of a Jewish comprehensive, King Solomon in Barkingside. I admit managing two schools at the same time is quite a challenge!  The Jewish community has given me a very warm and supportive welcome, not to mention a few ideas for future projects. I plan to give a lecture soon on the siege of Masada, the ancient fortification in southern Israel.

ROSEBLOOD, my novel about the gangs of medieval London on the eve of the Wars of the Roses, is now out in paperback.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing this and I am now working on its sequel, ROSEWOLF.  I love the period. I remember when I was at Oxford and disagreed with certain professors because, in my view, the great nobles of the 15th Century, the men of war, were not so much political or constitutional figures, but had much more in common with Cosa Nostra, the Mafia.  In both cultures, the leaders openly practised religion, patronised the church, looked after each other yet waged bloody and gruesome war against their opponents and anyone else who betrayed them.  Above all the blood feud dominated.  Take de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Henry VII’s general at the battle of Bosworth in 1485.  Edward the IV and his Yorkist captains always viewed de Vere as a real danger to their house and clan.  Edward IV tried to buy his loyalty but de Vere’s reply was worthy of any Mafioso: “You killed my father and I am going to kill you.” He fulfilled his vow. My series explores this gang culture, both amongst the great lords as well as the ordinary citizens of London.  In ROSEBLOOD, I describe the first battle of St Albans where the Yorkists were absolutely determined to break into the town and wipe out virtually every Lancastrian leader.  They almost did.  Marvellous stirring times!

Also coming out this autumn is the next in the Athelstan series, THE BOOK OF FIRES, where I make use of Mark the Greek’s Book of Fires (a genuine document) to plot murder and mayhem in the fragrant gardens, as well as the stinking alleyways of 14th Century London.  The Peasant’s Revolt, the Great Rebellion of 1381, is now imminent.   To quote a medieval phrase, “The chalice is cracked and the wine of life is fast draining into the dirt.”  My next Athelstan novel, THE HERALD OF HELL, actually ends with the news that the great black and scarlet banners have been raised and the Upright Men of Kent and Essex are flooding south….

The Great Revolt of May-June 1381 now dominates Athelstan’s life because it truly was one of the most momentous summers in English history.  For a few days London and the kingdom teetered on the brink.  The Crown itself fell under grave threat.  Of course, there had been violent battles in the past, and there would be more in the future, which would lead to a change in both dynasty and king.    What is remarkable about the revolt of 1381 is that the rebels, or at least some of them, were not just intent on toppling a government, they dreamed of a radical change of society.  If the likes of John Ball had his way, there would be no king, lord or prelate.  In my view, the Peasant’s Revolt was one of the great ‘people’ movements in human history.  In the end, it is highly ironic that it was defeated by a mere child.

I explore this revolutionary theme in THE BOOK OF FIRES and, I hope, create the real threat the peasants posed with both new weapons and old.  Gunpowder and cannon were beginning to make a serious impact on warfare but, even here, the long bow still ruled the roost.  The English archer, whether he was loosing a fire arrow or not, remained a most formidable soldier. A master bowman could loose 6 shafts in a minute.  Can you imagine what a thousand archers could achieve, an effect almost similar to that of a machine gun?  Now the real danger for the likes of John of Gaunt were that these bowmen were not skilled mercenaries like the Genoese crossbowmen hired by the princes of Europe, no, the longbow men were simple English peasants, farmers, ploughmen, carters, ditch-diggers who, in the twinkling of an eye and under the right command, could emerge as one the most effective fighting forces in the history of warfare.  THE BOOK OF FIRES portrays all this but it’s also a journey which will take you down pitch-black alleyways, treacherous runnels and dangerous coffin tracks. Along these haunted, forbidding paths lurks a killer with a penchant for murder second to none. I do hope all my readers enjoy it as much as I did, writing the book.

I have also turned my hand to writing some ghost stories set in different backgrounds: Ancient Egypt, Classical Rome and Medieval England.  I do plan to bring these out very shortly.  Sometimes, when in London I catch faint glimpses of the medieval city I have come to know so well.  Cheapside has gone, Smithfield may not be the hurly burly meadow it once was but the shadows and the ghosts still lurk there as they do along the ancient lanes and pilgrim paths of the countryside.  I am eager to tread these again!

Anyway, I hope you all had a lovely restful summer and let’s raise a glass to the fascinating times ahead – at least in fiction!

Kindest regards to you all,

Paul Doherty OBE



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