A Pilgrimage to Murder

Written by Paul Doherty
Review by Ann Chamberlin

England, summer 1381. The Peasants’ Revolt has been put down, and at every crossroads are gibbets whereon hang the bodies of the losers gathered in the mop-up operations. Our sleuth, Dominican friar Athelstan, and London’s coroner Sir John Cranston are among the first on the scene of a triple murder in the home of a Chancery clerk and his two servants. The victims are skillfully garroted without a trace of struggle. More bodies follow, preceded by ominous threats.

Our heroes’ investigations come in the midst of a capital trying to find its way back to a new normal, but with underground rebels attempting desperate retaliation almost daily. A possessed man seeks sanctuary in Athelstan’s Cheapside parish; intrigue stews between the Castilians and John of Gaunt, whose victorious Lancastrians have their eyes on the young King Richard II’s throne. And Athelstan is about to lead most of his parish full of poor sinners to Canterbury on a summer outing happily like Chaucer’s pilgrims. Suddenly all the suspects and investigators find themselves in need of a trip to the martyred Becket for the good of their souls.

I found the read a little slow at first, and then thrilling action scenes happened off stage when I would have liked to see them close up. But in general, this is a satisfying mystery by one of the masters of the medieval, with well-described street and inn scenes.