The Mansions of Murder

Written by Paul Doherty
Review by Elizabeth Knowles

In this 18th Brother Athelstan mystery, England in the late autumn of 1381 is moving on from the Peasants’ Revolt. In the London slums along the River Thames, criminal gangs maintain domination, and the lords of the land make use of them to advance their own ambitions for prestige, influence and power.

Against this backdrop, Brother Athelstan has been summoned with Sir John Cranston, the Lord High Coroner, to Saint Benet’s church in the heart of a criminal district. Athelstan is Sir John’s scribe, which is the reason for his involvement. Inside the locked church they find two corpses, one of whom is the parish priest. There is an empty coffin that should have contained the body of the local crime lord’s mother. A strongbox has been emptied of a king’s ransom in treasure.

As the two old friends start to investigate these crimes, more deaths ensue, and mysteries from the past come forward in macabre ways. There seems to be fear and danger at every turn, as the horror and violence increases. It is hard to be specific about the plot points without giving too much away, but this story is not for the fainthearted. Readers will have to endure a steady stream of brutality, cruelty, and death before they finally reach a happier scene that lightens the gloom somewhat at the end of the book.