PAUL HARDING – Red Slayer. Brother Athelstan #2. William Morrow, US, hardcover, 1994. Avon, US, paperback, 1995. First published in the UK as The House of the Red Slayer (Headline, hardcover, 1992).

   Unless I’m mistaken, Harding writes historical mysteries under a number of different names, P. C. Doherty among them. However, when I tried to find something to substantiate all this, I couldn’t put my hands on anything, so I may be wrong. I don’t think so, though.

   Brother Athelstan (a friar, not a monk) is parosh priest of Saint Erconwald’s, a church in Southwick in London of the mid-fourteenth century. He is also cleric to the City Coroner (a very important person in that time and place), Sir John Cranston. Just before Christmas in the fierce winter of 1377 they are called to the Tower of London, where the Constable of the Tower has been found in a locked bedroom in the Tower’s upper reaches, throat cut from ear to ear.

   It develops that while the Constable was not a well-liked person at all in the present, his past (he was once a mercenary knight in Egypt) might hold the secret to the murder. To round out the story, Sir John has wife problems and someone is robbing corpses from the cemetery at Brother Athlestan’s church.

   One book from so prolific a writer is far too small a sample from which to generalize, so I won’t I’ll just say that I didn’t find this particular book quite up to the level of, say, the historical mysteries of Peters, Marston, Tourney, et al. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it. Harding is at pains to provide a vivid historical background, and tells his story well enough.

   I suppose my reservations were in the natter of the leads. Sir John in particular seemed to be somewhat of a one-note character with his constant wine-bibbing and bellowing, and Athelstan never came quite to life for me. I also got tired of reading “he slurred” every time one of the drinking characters spoke. Nevertheless, I’ll try Harding again.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.

BIBLIOGRAPHIC UPDATE:  Barry was quite correct in stating that Paul Harding was one of several pen names of P. C. (Paul) Doherty. Other bylines he has used are Vanessa Alexander, Anna Apostolou, Michael Clynes, Ann Dukthas, and C L Grace. To this date (2017) there are 18 books in his Brother Athelstan series, the last eleven of them under his own name.