Publication Order of Brother Athelstan Books
|The Nightingale Gallery||(1991)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The House of the Red Slayer||(1992)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|Murder Most Holy||(1992)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Anger of God||(1993)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|By Murder's Bright Light||(1994)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The House of Crows||(1995)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Assassin's Riddle||(1996)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Devil's Domain||(1998)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Field of Blood||(1999)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The House of Shadows||(2003)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|Bloodstone||(2012)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Straw Men||(2013)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|Candle Flame||(2014)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
|The Book of Fires||(2015)||Hardcover Paperback Kindle|
Brother Athelstan is the main protagonist in the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, a series of fictional historical mysteries by the award winning English author, Paul C. Doherty.
We first meet Brother Athelstan in The Nightingale Gallery, the first book in the series published in 1991. It is the year 1376, and Brother Athelstan, a Dominican Monk with a keen intellect, is just past his “twenty eighth summer” when he is called upon to lead an investigation into a mysterious murder related to succession to the throne of England.
Brother Athelstan’s parents were quite well off, running a prosperous farm in Sussex. However, he had been intended for a religious life from early on. As such, he received a clerical education both at the Blackfriars priory in London and at the Exeter Hall in Essex. However, he abandoned the novitiate and, alongside his brother, joined a band of soldiers setting off for France in search of glory and honor as well as booty. Brother Athelstan is sold onto the myth of chivalry and bravery and thinks all he needs is a steed and armor to achieve the transformation.
His experience in France was deeply disappointing. There was no modicum of chivalry in the conduct of his armor-clad brothers at arms. The army did not set about to conquer in majesty and glory. Instead, they were barbarous and sadistic. He witnessed the most horrible deeds a human could do to another being including wholesale burning and ransacking of towns as well as the murder of women and children on a grand scale.
To make it worse, his brother is killed in battle. He says this was so devastating that it “aged him by a hundred years”. He returned home in shame and his parents were equally devastated by the death of his brother. Athelstan strived to redeem himself by rejoining the order. As part of the penance given for his abandoning the vows he had taken earlier, he was posted to the impoverished parish of St Erconwald’s in Southwark in London. He was also compelled to serve as secretarius (a form of personal assistant) to the local coroner. The coroner, Sir John Cranston, is very fat and almost always in an alcoholic stupor.
We also get to learn about the character of Brother Athelstan from other characters in the story. For instance, an under-sheriff describes him as “an olive-skinned Dominican monk, slender of build with jet-black hair and twinkling eyes that belied his penchant for wit and a sharp intelligence.” The under-sheriff however adds that Athelstan can also have eyes of concern when situation demanded empathy. One of his parishioners also describes him as a good man who is kind to all, approachable and who would never turn away anyone in need. Athelstan never tires to remind people, especially his Sir John, that he is not a monk but a “friar”. Sir John also values his dry sense of humor and sharp intellect.
Other than his love for observing celestial bodies, (he spends many nights up the tower of his church observing stellar bodies through a huge telescope) Brother Athelstan has little time for recreation. His is a lonely existence. Other than his working relationship, the closest he comes to social discourse is his relationship with a one-eyed cat he has named Bonaventure. Not that he is incapable of love or intimacy. He is attracted to one of his own parishioners, a widow named Benedicta, who attends every mass. She is lovely of face with pale skin and dark eyes. When he chances to look at her during mass, which was very often, she smiles at him. He tries to console himself that it is no sin to be drawn to a woman seeing that even Christ himself had women friends who were devoted to him. However, he never once dared tell Benedicta of his feelings for her.
When he sees Benedicta, the words of his novice master comes ringing in his head. The master had warned that every priest has three great terrors to stalk their lives. The first is the lust of the flesh, followed by loneliness of having no wife or children. But the third is the worst: to meet someone they genuinely love but bound by sacred vows, be unable to express that love.
Currently there are 14 titles in the series already in print with a further two awaiting release. To give you a flavor of what is on offer, here is a plot summary of the first two novels in the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan:
The Nightingale Gallery
The year is 1376 and the setting is medieval England. King Edward III has just died shortly after his eldest son and immediate heir, the famed Black Prince, also succumbed to the ravages of a terrible rotting sickness. This means a mere boy, the future King Richard II, rises to inherit the throne of England. All the great nobles in the country smell a chance to gain influence and surround the empty thrown like hungry wolves. There is a vicious power struggle within England and one of the most powerful merchants in London meets a death most foul within days of King Edward’s death. This is when Brother Althestan and Sir John are called in to investigate the death. It turns out that this was to be a precursor for even more deaths which rapidly follow. As they work together, we get to witness how the very unlikely partners, a methodical and staid friar alongside a brash and inebriated knight, get to form a formidable detective team.
The House of the Red Slayer
There is no detective who is complete without having solved a locked door mystery, is there? In the second installment of the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, our pious sleuth is involved in resolving the murder of Sir Ralph Whitton, the Constable of the Tower of London. After receiving a cryptic message, Sir Ralph has locked himself in an isolated room in the tower with sentries posted outside as precaution. Nonetheless, it seems an assassin manages to close the moat, climb the high walls, evade the sentries and slit the good knight’s throat. All without unlocking the door. While the assassin has eliminated Sir Ralph, his job is far from over as others know the secret he is so keen to protect. Even as Brother Athelstan and Sir Cranston rush to solve the mystery, they are distracted by issues closer to home. The fliar is trying to get into grips with the issue of grave robbers who have plagued his parish while no one can tell why the portly knight’s wife is acting so strangely. Will the detectives manage to solve the mysteries before the body count gets out of hand?