The Magician’s Death

Written by P. C. Doherty Paul Doherty
Review by Lucille Cormier

The Magician’s Death is the 14th of Paul Doherty’s Hugh Corbett medieval mysteries. Playing on the rivalry between England’s Edward I and France’s Philip IV, Doherty draws the reader into multilayered political conspiracies that would make any spy’s heart flutter with envy.

The top layer of the intrigue surrounds Roger Bacon’s impenetrable text, the Secret of Secrets, in which both sovereigns have developed an inexplicable interest. A collaboration is arranged to attempt translation of the mysterious tome. The symposium of scholars will meet through the bitter cold winter of 1304 at remote Corfe Castle, near the coast of Devonshire.

While France’s top schoolmen puzzle over the arcane text, young women – six is the final tally – have their throats slashed, Flemish pirates are sighted too near the coast, and local bandits find a corpse hanging in the forest. Then, one after the other, France’s three scholars suffer unfortunate deaths. Add to the mix the mysterious Father Matthew, the castle’s chaplain, who is not what he purports to be. Corfe’s winter blizzards are a fitting metaphor for the swirl of puzzle pieces and hidden motives that confound Sir Hugh until at dawn’s first light (another apt metaphor) the pieces fall into place just in time… for an excellent climax.

The Magician’s Death is a rollicking good story, but what gives special pleasure is the gracefulness of the story’s development. It is like a finely executed dance – one scene flowing into the next, in measured, accelerating pace to a beautifully crafted climax. It’s the work of a writer at the height of his skill. Most highly recommended!