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



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

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