Monday, August 06, 2007

An Ancient Evil by Paul Doherty

A group of pilgrims are making their way towards Canterbury. During the day they swap tales full of humour and morals, tales made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer. Yet at night they swap stories of a different nature. Tales of murder, horror and woe. At
night they compete to see who can tell the best dark story, for the winner shall receive a purse of silver. Thus begins Doherty's series 'The Canterbury Tales Mysteries'.

In this book we have the Knight's tale. A knight, a clerk and a blind nun work together to save Oxford from a grim spectre of the past. People are being brutally murdered, students are missing and there are fears that the living dead are abroad. Are the old stories of a mysterious cult who disguised themselves as members of the cloth to hide their deceit true? Did these men and women really commit such horrific crimes centuries before and could they have returned to reek revenge? what is certain is that the perpetrators must be found before they strike again.

Doherty is well known for his historical murder mysteries. These include the Hugh Corbett Mysteries and the Brother Athelstan series, not to mention series set in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome and the court of Alexander the Great. Therefore there are no worries to be had on historical accuracy. Medieval England is a period Doherty knows well and this shines through with his take on a well known horror story. What makes the book work is the gradual unveiling of the story to the reader and I have no wish to spoil that by giving too much away. Suffice to say by the end of this book most readers will be aware of the clues and homages to the original story.

The book is not a taxing read and I confess to being quite engrossed whilst reading this. I avoid horror at all costs usually as I don't tend to enjoy the vampires, werewolves, zombies and scare tactics used. I also like to sleep soundly at night.
Nevertheless I found this book immensely enjoyable. I don't think it would appeal to horror fans though as even I didn't find this book too scary. The suspense was maintained till towards the end and all the murders were suitably gruesome. Yet perhaps it was the fact it was set in the 13th century that made me unable to see myself in that situation. Horror often works because we perceive the threats in the story as believable. A recent episode of Doctor Who had alien assassins who
disguised themselves as statues but who couldn't move if you looked directly at them. If you so much as blinked, they could move in the time your eyes were shut. What made it scary was that statues are all around us, and we don't think about them, so who knows which ones could be these aliens and sneak up on you when you blink? The setting of Doherty's book in the dim and distant past in situations that are alien to us in the present meant that the horror wasn't so apparent. I didn't feel as if I could possibly be in any danger.

If you have read other books by Doherty it is worth trying this series, especially as this is the first and sets up the premise of the series. I would also recommend it to those who enjoy historical crime fiction as something a little different to what they usually read, if they want to try something new. It's a sort of crime/horror combo, but as I've said before not a hugely terrifying story so good for those who are not big horror fans.

3 stars

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