Murder Most Treasonable

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Pub Date 07 Nov 2023 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2023

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Spies, secrets and suspicious circumstances: Friar-sleuth Brother Athelstan races against time to solve impossible crimes and uncover a traitor in this gripping historical mystery set in medieval London.

London. March, 1382. Deep in the shadows, a clandestine organization known as the Secret Chancery operates under the sinister leadership of John of Gaunt's Master of Secrets. When two clerks from this covert group meet their demise in suspicious circumstances, friar-sleuth Brother Athelstan is urgently summoned to unravel the truth behind their deaths.

A puzzling question lies at the heart of the investigation: how did the killer manage to navigate a labyrinth of locked doors, leaving no trace behind? As Brother Athelstan delves deeper into the mystery, a terrifying threat also emerges: the possibility of treason. King Richard's spies in France are also dying, almost as if someone's discovered exactly who they are . . .

Brother Athelstan must race against the clock to uncover the truth before he and his companions get tangled up in the hunt for the traitor, with fatal consequences for them all.

Spies, secrets and suspicious circumstances: Friar-sleuth Brother Athelstan races against time to solve impossible crimes and uncover a traitor in this gripping historical mystery set in medieval...

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Featured Reviews

I want to open by saying that I've been reading the Brother Athelstan mysteries for years and have enjoyed them a great deal. Doherty's historical mysteries tend to have fewer anachronisms than some of the books in the historical mystery genre, and I appreciate being able to feel as if I'm not reading a 21st Century novel dressed up to look older than it is.

Yes, at times Brother Athelstan seems a bit more willing to overlook crime and potential heresy than I would expect from a friar in the 14th Century, but Doherty manages not to cross that line. Brother Athelstan is a man who sees and understands more than most, but is still a man of his time.

One of the other ways Doherty avoids or counterbalances anachronisms is through the character Lord John Cranston, coroner for London, who seems very much a man of this times, particularly a lawman of his time. The Brother Athelstan novels take place in a London that reflects the violence and sudden (and not always just) justice of the era. Gallows with the remains of the executed stud many of London's neighborhoods and are an expected part of the "scenery." Those caught in the act of a crime are summarily hung. Torture is an accepted part of questioning a suspect.

This particular volume of the Brother Athelstan series struck me as involving more violence than I remember from previous volumes, but I'm not sure whether that's actually the case or just a failing of my memory. What I do know, is that while reading Murder Most Treasonable I found myself asking "what is life like, how is the world perceived and lived in, when sudden violence is part of the machinery of justice, is seen not just as acceptable, but as good?" I don't have any great answers to that questions, but I appreciate Doherty's taking me enough out of my comfort zone to make me ask it.

Murder Most Treasonable isn't one of my favorite Brother Athelstan mysteries. The build up to the crime(s) is slow. The last third of the book establishes the pace I'm more accustomed to in the books, not rushed, but with a sort of surging as answers to questions accumulate and threats become more specific. I wouldn't recommend Murder Most Treasonable as a good first read if one is unfamiliar with the series, but in the context of the series it could work well—readers should just spend time with a few earlier volumes first.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.

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This was a really well written historical mystery book. I haven’t read any others in this long-lasting series, but I don’t think that avid readers of the series will be disappointed. I appreciated that despite this being so far into the series, I was able to pick it up and easily get immersed in the story. I haven’t read many books set in medieval times, and this one is medieval London, so that was fun. This book had several fun twists and turns, and it held my interest throughout.

If you are looking for really fun medieval mystery, then check this one out.

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“Cranston and his friar are to be killed. But how, when, where, or by whom, I do not know.”
March, 1382. The Secret Chancery is the dark agency at the beck and call of the throne – or in reality, the regent John of Gaunt. They are the keepers and seekers of secrets, with agents everywhere. And the agents in Paris – agents whose identities are closely guarded secrets – agents who are all that stands between peace and war with France – are being killed by their counterparts in the French regime.
In London, the Chancery have a secure centre of operations – a labyrinth of locked doors and spiral staircases – but death strikes there too. Sir John Cranston and Brother Athelstan are in a race against time to uncover a traitor who can strike without mercy and has determined to most efficient way of eluding the friar’s keen instincts. Because Athelstan is the killer’s next target.
And so I bring September History month to a close the same way I opened it – with Paul Doherty and Brother Athelstan. Next time I try this, I’ll try a less busy month than the first in the school term, but I’ve got a load of recommendations. But this was, and Murdering The Messenger, was the inspiration for the theme month, so I was determined to include it. And let’s face it, I will always find the time to read a new Paul Doherty book.
It’s not out until early November, but I managed a whole month of having the preview e-copy without cracking it open – that’s pretty good for me. And it’s a fantastic way to end the month.
There’s more of an espionage theme in this one, as we almost seem to be treading into Hugh Corbett’s area, as Athelstan gets involved in the simmering not-quite-war with France. Of course, being an Athelstan mystery, there’s also the return of a cat-burglar who once stole a valuable ruby from John of Gaunt and a disappearing relic from Athelstan’s church. Both plots interweave with the main one with, as you might expect, some unexpected overlaps.
There’s also a new wrinkle, an adversary who takes the step that almost every classic mystery villain should but rarely tries, namely a concerted effort to murder the sleuth. This isn’t the “sleuth stumbles across a shadowy figure, has a bit of a tussle with them” but an active ongoing plot from someone who knows just how dangerous Athelstan and Cranston are. Spoiler – it doesn’t succeed, but the palpable sense of danger hanging over the tale is very effective.
And all the usual stuff is here – mysterious deaths, locked rooms, and the richest sense of history. There’s a line in the Author’s Note at the end: “I hope my novel has transported you back to those hurling days in the 1380s when England was swept by the strong winds of change.” Paul, if you read this, rest assured that it did. It’s not somewhere that I’d ever want to live, but I hope to keep visiting it in the company of the little friar for many books to come.

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I would like to thank Netgalley and Severn House Publishers for an advance copy of Murder Most Treasonable, the twenty-second novel to feature Brother Athelstan, set in London in 1382.

The Secret Chancery, helmed by John of Gaunt’s Master of Secrets, holds all the documentation regarding the machinations of Gaunt, the Regent, and his entourage. When two employees die in questionable circumstancesBrother Athelstan and his employer, Royal Coroner Sir John Cranston are asked to investigate. Adding to the intrigue is the hint of treason as the French have been dismantling England’s spy network, headed by a man code named Nightingale.

I thoroughly enjoyed Murder Most Treasonable, which is a further look at life in mediaeval England with another tricky mystery and a likeable protagonist. It is mostly told from Athelstan’s point of view and as he has a more rational and logical eye than most of the characters it makes for a good read.

The main thing I like about this series is the atmosphere the author creates. I feel like you can almost smell the stench and feel the poverty most people live in. Equally, there is no hiding the personal danger in getting close to the upper echelons of power - one wrong word could mean death. It’s a heady brew, and yet it is not all doom and gloom. There are subplots about a missing relic and the return of a notorious thief, who is only too willing to bait Sir John Cranston, that provide absurdity and a little light comic relief.

I feel that the novel is slow to start, but a weighty subject like spying and murder set in a historical era requires a substantial build up. Once it gets going, however, it rattles along with attempts on the lives of Brother Athelstan and Sir John. If there was any doubt about a spy in the Secret Chancery and attempt on the lives of the investigators soon quells it. The big questions are who and how. As befits a repository of state secrets there are locked doors everywhere and only two sets of keys, both accounted for. All employees are searched on the way out. These are intriguing puzzles that, I must confess, Brother Athelstan solved before I did. Still, it was fun trying to work it out.

Murder Most Treasonable is a good read that I have no hesitation in recommending.

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This was a very well written historical mystery book. I haven’t read any others in this series so didn't know what to expect. It was a little slow paced for me but very atmospheric where you could almost see and smell the sights and sounds. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Paul Doherty has created an absolutely great series in the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan books. Whilst there are numerous books which come before this, you can jump straight in - but for me, the characters are so familiar there's a comfort to them, a cosiness - murder aside!

As with other books in the series, we begin with an apparently unexplainable murder that Athelstan and coroner Sir John Cranston seek to solve. You know you're in safe hands with Doherty when it comes to the immersion within medieval London, the rich array of characters and the complex plot which keeps you guessing at every turn.

I'd highly recommend for those who have enjoyed the Shardlake series or those who just like a good old, historical murder mystery.

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I'd not read any of the preceding installments in this long running series and this made a fine standalone, Set in 1382 it sees Brother Athelstan and coroner Sir John Cranston investigate a series of locked room murders. This starts a little slowly and it helps, I must admit to have at least a sense of the political strife of the time but the characters are good and it's very atmospheric. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. For fans of historical mysteries.

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Another excellent book featuring Brother Athelstan dealing with multiple problems in life-threatening circumstances. His Coroner friend Cranston stands by him as they work to overcome the problems presented by those who favor the French. The action is believable due to the help Brother Athelstan receives from several sources in his quirky parish family but the bad guys are formidable.
There are vivid descriptions of medieval life as usual. One can almost smell the waste products. This particular book did not have as much action from his usual parishioners with their quirky names.
I have read and enjoyed all the Brother Athelstan books.

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Many thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for this Advance Reader Copy and the opportunity to review “Murder Most Treasonable.” All opinions and comments are my own.

The clash of country against country – which necessitates a thriving spy system – is at the heart of “Murder Most Treasonable,” in which our favorite St. Erconwald parish priest Brother Athelstan finds himself once again at the heart of some very disagreeable secular activities in medieval London. Seems there’s a traitor in or around the Secret Chancery, which houses the King’s special espionage headquarters. A clerk has already met his death, and this won’t be the only one. And while this will consume the attention of the Lord High Coroner Sir John Cranston and his helpful clerk and favorite Dominican, there’s also trouble in the return of an old enemy, who has vowed to get rid of Sir John; if there’s collateral damage, oh, well. Will these two stories intercede? Does the miraculous wineskin make its inevitable appearance? A resounding yes to both questions. Author Paul Doherty is a master at web-spinning; “Murder Most Treasonable” is no exception.

And if this wasn’t enough, there’s misfortune at St. Erconwald’s involving its “motley crew,” as the author describes its parishioners. Never a dull moment in a Brother Athelstan novel.

All of this takes place amongst the stinks, sights, and sounds of a medieval city that Paul Doherty also relishes in describing to his readers. And ever present is the threat of violence, to one and all, hero, and villain. Fourteenth century England was not a place for the faint of heart.

There are many puzzles here, and not only in the plot. The words themselves are often mysteries, to be deciphered by discriminating readers as well as by the inhabitants of the story. Luckily, our little priest puts all the pieces together, as he does so well: “Let me plan, let me plot.” Traps are sprung, final confrontations are arranged. There’s a big finish that seems almost unnecessary. But never fear, the enemies of England are everywhere, and must continue to be found out. And oh yes, the “problems” of the parish are dealt with, too. Indeed, the “beloved parishioners” are one of the main reasons to keep reading the Athelstan and Cranston books – where else can one find such varied, amazingly alive fictional people? Brother Athelstan and our Lord High Coroner will remain ever vigilant themselves, in further adventures.

An Author’s Note reveals the real historical facts and personages incorporated in the story. As Mr. Doherty relates, the historical times incorporated in his Brother Athelstan stories make for remarkable stories. In his competent hands, they come alive.

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1382. The English and French both have their spies. But how are the English spies in France being discovered. Back in London the killing of clerks in the 'House of Secrets' has started. But how are they killed in locked spaces. Brother Athelstan and Sir John Cranston investigate.
An entertaing and well-written historical mystery with its likeable main characters. Another good addition to this enjoyable series which can easily be read as a standalone story.
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Murder Most Treasonable is a fast-paced, absorbing medieval murder mystery. The story is carefully crafted, there’s a cast of great characters and the plot is full of twists and turns.

What struck me were the vivid descriptions. Dohery creates a real insight into life in London during the 1380s, from the scenes of everyday life, to the echoing caverns of secret strongholds He builds up a very realistic, and sometimes grim, picture that creates an immersive and believable journey back in time.

Murder Most Treasonable is well-layered and complex, with multiple voices and plots that flow together. There’s plenty of violence, politics and espionage to keep you hooked, and new situations and locations are introduced often, keeping the book feeling fresh. What could have easily been a heavy and complicated read, is instead one that is - whilst no means a ‘light’ read - easy to get stuck into for an hour or two.

There were some times where the prose was a little clumsy and repetitive, sharing details with the reader that had already been explained a few times before. These instances did tend to be nearer the start of the book and as the plot progressed, either wasn’t as noticeable because I was enjoying the story, or the writer found his pace and voice. There were also some events that weren’t overly believable when considering the mystery genre. However, they did help progress the plot and were important to the overall story so were easy to look past.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It’s a medieval murder mystery that is easy to get stuck into.

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Paul Doherty immerses Brother Athelstan and Coroner John Cranston in Murder Most Treasonable in an attack on them and the British Secret Chancery in London early under the reign of King Richard. The French secret service and London criminals target them through the London underworld. Bloody and vicious but Athelstan and Cranston unwind the plots. How many to die? Good historical mystery.

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