The Straw Men

Written by P. C. Doherty
Review by Judith Starkston

Set in 1381, Doherty’s twelfth in his Brother Athelstan series pits the insightful Dominican and Cranston, Lord Coroner, against both John of Gaunt’s Master of Secrets, Thibault, and the Upright Men, leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt. From rebel ambushes to mysterious assassinations striking at the heart of Gaunt’s powerbase in the Tower, Athelstan witnesses key events that make no sense. Athelstan suspects everyone from a troop of mummers to his parishioners, and Thibault keeps more secrets than he tells. Can Athelstan identify the nimble murderer?

Doherty reveals his vast knowledge of medieval life. For example, one London street scene fills pages with vivid sensory description and an emphasis on the macabre. Bloody eel skins make the road slippery, boiled heads of traitors leer from the bridge, the smell of saltpeter gags, coffins proliferate now that a break in the hard frost allows burials, and an execution party makes its way to the gallows. If you were ever tempted to romanticize the medieval period, Doherty will cure you, taking all your senses back in time.