The Herald of Hell: A Brother Athelstan Novel of Medieval London (The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan #15) by Paul Doherty.
In the midst of the violence and unrest of May 1381 London, just prior to the Peasant's Revolt, Brother Athelstan and Sir John Cranston, the Lord High Coroner of London must once again step carefully and solve a murder that has ties to plots of highly placed persons and the scrutiny of the Upright Men. A man of subterfuge, Amaury Whitfield, chancery clerk to Tribuault, Master of Secrets for John of Gaunt has seemingly committed suicide in a locked room in a Southwark brothel. The Golden Oliphant is a place where cravings can be satisfied--for a price. His erstwhile scrivener and comrade in nefarious dealings, Oliver Lebarge has almost simultaneously thrust himself into Athelstan's life by taking sanctuary in St Erconwald's. Althestan's upcoming investigation and inquest will lead back to Lebarge and beyond as he and Cranston uncover the steps taken by Whitfield and Lebarge until now.
Revolt and threatened regicide is the background tableau--part of the pieces Althestan must hold at bay as he and Cranston go forward with their hunt. Athelstan must try to find a cipher that will illuminate a manuscript found on the suicide victim. The story is enhanced by Althestan's wonderful application of focus and logic to the situation.
Always at the heart is Althestan's concern for his flock and their part in the coming revolt. He does everything he can to guard against the days portending, to protect them and others he meets on the way. Jumping to Tribault's demands is part of that, although a double edged sword it would seem for Althestan.
I loved the detail, the sense of turbulence, the seething masses, the heightened awareness that some places described evoke. Indeed descriptions of the bowels of the city are more akin to Dantes inferno.
The casualness of torture, hangings and beheadings fights against the condition of the poor, the injustice of soldiers having returned from battles finding no life to return to. Indeed the Upright Men have much to press forward for. The mystery of the Herald of Hell who is seen in all places is terrorizing London. All is moving forward to a unprecedented confrontation between the peasants and their overlords. Althestan is constantly surprised by who is in sympathy with the cause.
A brilliant and enthralling picture of this time in history, richly added to by the obvious rigorous research of Doherty. The secondary characters are wonderfully portrayed, with either their cunning, or greed, or fear being decisively manifest.
I was absorbed once more into the mysteries, the travails, and times of Althestan as seen through his eyes.
A NetGalley ARC