The King sends him to Mistleham in Essex to deal with a number of issues involving Lord Oliver Scrope. The King demands precious items from his treasury returned. He wants explanations found for Scrope’s conduct in slaying a group of wandering religious and hasty execution of one of the thieves of the royal treasure.
Mistleham is in turmoil on Corbett’s arrival. The Sagittarius, also known as the Bowman, has been terrorizing the community. After three blasts of a hunting horn the Bowman is killing men and women, apparently at random, with well placed arrows.
Corbett finds Lord Scrope well prepared for his investigation. Plausible answers are offered to all questions. Corbett is not deterred and carefully seeks out information.
Then another name is offered by Sagittarius. He calls himself Nightshade as he threatens Lord Scrope. Since Lord Scrope is an ill tempered brutal man there are an abundance of potential killers.
Lord Scrope’s wealth is based on treasure taken during the fall of Acre at the end of the Crusades over a decade earlier. What happened in the final assault on the last Crusader fortress is at the heart of the mystery.
Corbett’s investigation becomes more complicated by murder within a locked room. It is actually a double form of the sub-genre. The room, actually a building of one room, is on an island surrounded by water with no bridge and guards watching out for anyone seeking to cross to the island. It has been some time since I read such a mystery. It is deftly handled by Doherty.
The era is a brutal time. The rule of law is tenuous with the sword more often used to deliver justice with all the arbitrariness that comes from decisions made by the wielder of the blade.
It is not a great book. It is an enjoyable story with lots of colour and a vivid portrayal of the early 14th Century. I expect I shall read more in the series. I was encouraged to read more of Doherty by the Puzzle Doctor who has a whole category devoted to the prolific Doherty’s books at his blog In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel. (Oct. 16/11)