The Great Revolt: A Brother Athelstan Medieval Mystery

Written by Paul Doherty
Review by Mary F. Burns

This is the tenth Brother Athelstan mystery in the series, and Doherty delivers crime and politics in equal measure. In 1381, his “diminutive Dominican” wrestles with murder and mayhem that hark back some 50 years to the mysterious death of Edward II, allegedly murdered by his Queen (Isabella) and her lover, Roger Mortimer. The current, very young King Richard II is engulfed by warring factions and harried by the Great Revolt of the title, engineered by “the peasant army,” including farmers, common men, guilds and craftsmen, and exploited by ambitious nobles and their henchmen. This uprising of “Upright Men” wants to pull down everything and everyone—King, Noble, Church and State—and institute a new Jerusalem in London. There are two popes claiming the Church, and every king in Christendom seems to be changing sides and allies every other day—in other words, life as usual in medieval times.

There are a couple of “locked door” murders for Brother Athelstan to solve amidst the political churning, and he becomes a target of the murderer as he draws ever closer to solving the crimes. Doherty writes with conscious assurance about the times and the details, although I found the dialogue somewhat stilted and lacking in depth. Athelstan is continually drawn off into a dream state in the middle of some very trying circumstances (like being attacked or escaping from a dungeon), which didn’t seem realistic. It’s a solid mystery, but I thought the characters seemed wooden and two-dimensional; it was hard to care about their fates.