Monday, January 23, 2017

Satan in St. Mary's by P.C. Doherty (1986)

Satan in St. Mary's has a very, very slow start.  And not particularly to my taste either, as within the first few pages, a Satanic Cult is meeting to discuss the overthrow of King Edward I.  The 80s was the heyday of Satanic Cults - they were everyone from about 1975 to 1985, lurking around every corner, sacrificing preschoolers on altars to Lucifer, hiding messages in Beatles records.  So much hysterical bullshit.  So I certainly wrinkled my nose during that chapter and almost put the book down.  But a little niggling voice in the back of my head said "remember the 50 page rule" so I kept up, and I'm glad I did.

I was reminded of Steven Saylor's first book in the Roma Sub Rosa series.  This is one of my most favorite mystery series, but the much better books came later in the series.  The first book had to set everything up; and the characters weren't as developed.  The writing was sharper and crisper later as well.  I'm hoping P.C. Doherty's series is the same way.

Because after 50 pages, I started to get into the "whodunnit."  Doherty's medieval London is filthy, dangerous stew, complete with cutthroats and pickpockets and rogues and criminals.  It stinks and is dirty and dank and dark.  Add Satanists slitting the throats of old women, and you have a setting that's both frightening and interesting.  Hugh Corbett began to be a believable and likable character as well, and his sidekick Ranulf added a bit of comic relief.

The inclusion of a male brothel was interesting as well, and I thought Doherty handled the homosexuality as well as can be expected for 1986; I certainly wasn't offended.  Of course all the gays died; but that kind of novel where the gays live happily ever waits for future decades.

I'm going to at least try one more in the series; they are really short and pretty easy to read, and the mystery was okay - although Doherty left some red herrings, I kept on the trail and knew the murderer by the end.

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Oh wow - I've read this before!  I knew as I read this that several scenes were deja vu!  One word review on Goodreads from 2007:  "Fun!"

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Satan in St Mary's (Hugh Corbett, #1)Satan in St Mary's by Paul Doherty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I guess I had read this ten years ago; I had deja vu several times while reading it this time. My previous Goodreads review was one word: "Fun!" I also originally gave it four stars. I didn't come away from the mystery this time with the same impression this time; I'm downgrading four stars to three, and "Fun!" to "Engaging." The Satanic Cult - I don't think this a spoiler, because Satan is in the title, and the cult's coven gathers in the first chapter - was one of the lamer parts of the book for me; what I found engaging was the description of London during King Edward I's time - dirty, dangerous, dank, dark, disgusting. I also though Hugh Corbett and his sidekick Ranulf were strong detectives, although the whodunnit was definitely easy to solve (of course, I'd read the book before, so maybe the whodunnit had stuck subconsciously in my head?) . Doherty lays the trail with plenty of red herrings though. As historical murder mysteries go, this one was pretty good.


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