The Hanging Tree
by Paul Doherty
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Pub Date 7 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 31 May 2022
Brother Athelstan must solve a theft from the royal treasure chamber and the murders of six executioners in this gripping medieval mystery.
London. January, 1382. The Crown's treasury has been robbed. Tens of thousands of silver and gold coin mysteriously lifted from the most secure chamber in the kingdom; the five Clerks of the Dark who guarded the king's treasure brutally garrotted. Sir John Cranston and Brother Athelstan are appointed to investigate – but Athelstan has problems of his own. Clement the Key Master, who helped fashion the complex locks to the royal treasure chamber, has been found strangled in the nave of Athelstan's parish, St Erconwald's church.
At the same time, six of the city's hangmen have been savagely murdered, their bodies stripped. Pinned to each corpse is a scrawled note: "Vengeance! The Upright Men never forget!" The Guild of Hangmen who frequent the majestic tavern, The Hanging Tree, on the River Thames, have petitioned for Sir John and Brother Athelstan to find the culprit. But have the sleuthing pair taken on more than they can handle . . . and could the two investigations be connected?
A Note From the Publisher
Average rating from 18 members
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, was the regent for his young nephew King Richard II in 1382 England. Working for him was his coroner Sir John Cranston and his friend and cohort Brother Athelstan.
The Crown’s treasury has been robbed. The man who designed the fail safe locks has been murdered. He was supposed to destroy his drawings and plans, but did not. Sir John and Brother Athelstan have been asked to investigate. Also six hangmen have been murdered. The pair have been asked to investigate this as well. Are all of these crimes connected?
Sir John and Brother Athelstan come across the “Upright Men” written on paper pinned to the deceased hangmen. Who are they? What is their grievance?
The pair interviewed countless witnesses and those involved in some way with Flambard’s Tower, where the treasury was kept. They want very detailed information about everyone's movements.
Sir John and Brother Athelstan ponder how the thieves could abscond with the treasury. And who they could be. They request that all ships be searched before leaving port, and all carts and such conveyances be inspected.
When they eventually find the thieves, it is as expected. (I suspected them as well.) The Master of Secrets, Thibault, forces a confrontation with startling results.
They go on to discover the secrets held within The Hanging Tree tavern. They are many and buried deep. A conspiracy is uncovered.
This book is written very skillfully. The plotting is linear and easy to follow. Medieval London is described very well: the sights, the sounds and the inhabitants. It was a very rough time in which to live. The reader’s sensibilities are not spared. I could not live there myself.
I want to thank NetGalley and Severn House for forwarding to me a copy of this most remarkable book for me to read, enjoy and review. The opinions expressed here are solely my own.
"We are, as ever, about to enter the meadows of murder. We are going to hunt the most subtle of killers, a true son of Cain, even though God has yet to brand him as such."
This is an astounding murder mystery set in Medieval London. A medium paced, plot led novel - part of a series though I've yet to read the others (I actually discovered I have the first on my tbr pile!) I assume that the character building for our main investigators, Sir John and Brother Athelstan has likely already been established in previous books, but this was easy enough to jump in at without prior knowledge of it's prequels.
This kept me guessing to the very end, the cleverness properly blew my mind. I would highly recommend!
This is not my first venture into the Brother Athelstan Mysteries, and it definitely will not be my last. The Hanging Tree is book twenty-one in the series and similar to the previous novels, can be read as a stand-alone book.
There is so much true historical background locked within the narrative it makes for fascinating reading on many levels. Not only do you get excellent storylines, but also interesting and authentic historical backing.
The crimes start to mount up from the very outset in The Hanging Tree, and Sir John Cranston and Brother Athelstan are appointed to investigate. But it does seem that they have got their work cut out to solve not one case but several. Yet they all point or seem to point in the same direction, The Hanging Tree tavern.
The interaction between Sir John Cranston and Brother Athelstan is excellent, and okay it isn't Holmes and Watson, far from it. But it is enjoyable to see the banter between them and the pair working in partnership with each other. Not altogether sure how Brother Athelstan would have liked being called Sir John's "familiar", though.
There is skulduggery, conspiracy, and misdirection within the narrative. You can add these to the murder, mystery, and suspense that permeate the story.
The Hanging Tree is a well-written and engaging medieval crime thriller. The main protagonists are brilliantly portrayed and make for delightful sleuths. The dialogue is just realistic enough, without getting too bogged down in Olde English.
The Hanging Tree is a great read, and I recommended it to fans of the genre or those interested in crime thrillers in general.
Thank you, NetGalley and Severn House, for the advanced copy.
I would like to thank Netgalley and Severn House Publishers for an advance copy of The Hanging Tree, the twenty first novel to feature Brother Athelstan, set in London in 1382.
Sir John Cranston, the King’s Crowner, and his secretary, Brother Athelstan have been asked to investigate a daring theft from the Tower of London. Coins worth tens of thousands are missing and five men in charge of sorting it have all been garrotted. To make matters worse Clement, the man who designed the locks to the tower, is found murdered in Athelstan’s church. And then there’s the murder of six hangmen that the establishment wants investigated.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Hanging Tree which has likeable characters and a good mystery to solve. There are surprises about some of the detail and the people involved, but overall this is not a whodunnit, more of a howdunnit. For a start, the heist (no better word for it) is quickly attributed to the Carbonari, a band of sophisticated Italian thieves, so the investigation concentrates on how they did it and who is a member. The murder of the hangmen is slightly different. There is no identification of the perpetrator, but it’s not hard to guess, so again it’s how and why. Where and how Clement fits in is another puzzle, but he’s not the last victim as this novel has an extremely high body count.
The puzzle of how and, in some cases, why the crimes were committed is one reason to turn the pages but not the only one. Mediaeval London comes alive in the writing and it’s not pretty with danger at every corner and enough smells to turn the stomach. The juxtaposition of casual violence and brutality with religious observance is striking. Pray at the right times and carry on regardless as God is on your side seems to be the ethos. I like that the author tells it as it probably was. Then there’s the politics. The author includes real life characters in all their venality and hunger for power at any cost. It is well done and reinforces the adage of not sticking one’s head above the parapet.
The best of the novel lies in the friendship between Sir John and Brother Athelstan. It is warm and sometimes humorous, fostered by the familiarity of long term collaboration. Athelstan is the brains, Sir John the brawn in the form of his legal authority. I like spending time with them.
The Hanging Tree is a good read that I have no hesitation in recommending.
Murder and theft rears it's ugly head in medieval London again in this latest instalment of the long-running popular series featuring two of my favourite sleuths, Coroner John Cranston and cleric Brother Athelstan. Gripping from the first page to the very last, this roller-coaster of a ride will climax to a satisfying conclusion or so you think!
The Crown’s treasury could not have been more secure. The silver and gold were locked and guarded within a secure tower, with elaborate traps and defences. The guards – two shifts of five clerks – alternated in a strict routine, the only time the vault was ever accessed being the changeover. Yet someone apparently walked in, murdered the five clerks on duty and walked out with more coin than they could possibly carry. And in the nave of St Erconwald’s, the parish church of Brother Athelstan, Clement the Key Master, the man who fashioned the intricate locks to the tower, lies dead…
Athelstan and Sir John Cranston, the City Coroner, are tasked to investigate, but find themselves stymied by the political machinations taking place alongside the crime. But meanwhile, the city’s hangmen are living in fear as, to date, six of them have been murdered. Notes on their bodies lay the blame at the Upright Men, the power behind the recent Peasants’ Revolt. Is another uprising on the way? Or is something more sinister taking place…
Usually, I try and time my reviews of new releases to go live on the release date – and I tend not to do that by not reading the review copies until close to the release date. In this crappy old year, though, when I got my hands on an e-copy of the latest case for one of my favourite sleuths, Brother Athelstan, I couldn’t wait to read it, and now, having staved off writing the review for a few weeks, I decided it was time to post this. Yes, I suppose I could delay publication – of the review, not the book, obviously – but I thought I’d share the joy. Yes, it’s another great mystery from the master of the historical locked room.
The central idea behind the theft, from one of the most secure locked rooms that I’ve ever seen, is delightfully simple, but I didn’t spot it. I did spot what was going on with the hangman murders – there weren’t really many options with that strand – but the main story was delightful, a well-crafted blend of shenanigans from the regent, John of Gaunt, the Italian money-lenders and at least one murderous wildcard in the pack. At the centre of it all is Brother Athelstan, thoughtful, troubled and very much a man of his time – it might surprise some readers for a man of God to be so acceptant of the death penalty, for example, but there is a certain blood and thunder that rises in the friar in the face of evil. The supporting cast have something of a lesser role in this one, but all of a regular reader’s favourite characters make an appearance, but not in such a way to confuse new readers.
There are a lot of mystery novels out there that are basically fine, but nothing special. It feels like I’ve read a lot of them lately, so it’s an absolute joy to be able to revisit Athelstan’s London. Later in the year, Hugh Corbett will be back in another adventure too… I’m counting the days already.
The Hanging Tree is released by Severn House in hardback and ebook on May 1st from Severn House. Many thanks for the e-review copy.
My favorite series so I did a little dance when I received this ARC. thank you Netgalley and Severn House Publishers for the ARC.
Paul Doherty excels in developing atmosphere and character. I care deeply about the people in this series. Doherty has once again given the reader a snapshot of medieval London, and it's ugly, violent, dirty. Don't expect Camelot in his books; rather you get beautifully researched novels.
In this latest of the Brother Athelstan series, the monk and parish priest of St. Erconwald's, along with London Coroner John Cranston investigate the robbery of a vast sum of money that was kept in a highly secure tower and was intended to pay back debts to Italian bankers. The theft touches St. Erconwald's when the key master who designed the tower's locks is murdered while sheltering in the church. There also is a side plot of a killer murdering London hangmen.
This series is best read in order. I highly recommend it.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for this opportunity to review “The Hanging Tree.” All opinions and comments are my own.
We learn from a beginning Historical Note that England is in a prosperous phase. Trade is flourishing, law and order reigns. Times are good. Hardly the setting for murder, one would think. Ah, but Peter Doherty has other plans. The House of the Exchequer – home of the treasury of the king, “tens of thousands of pounds sterling in gold and silver” has been violated, all the Clerks of the Dark murdered, the coins gone. It is an impossible crime, but it has happened.
As our story begins Clement the Key-Maker comes to St. Erconwald’s Church to meet with our Brother Athelstan for his advice. Brother Athelstan is the Dominican friar (along with Sir John Cranston, the Coroner) at the heart of this series, of which this is the 21st book. Clement has links to this mystery; readers find this out. He wants to confess something, tell Athelstan all his secrets. But he is not going to get the chance.
Also, from the beginning we’re told who has stolen the treasure -- the “Carbonari” -- Italians. They say it’s rightfully theirs, anyway, as it was meant as a repayment to Italian bankers from the English treasury. But now the King will have to pay it back again, and well, what a hardship that will be. It will bring down men around the King, supporters of John of Gaunt and the like. These men aren’t very happy about this. Gaunt and Thibault, his henchman wants Athelstan and Cranston to get the money back, and do it quickly. Of course, the Carbonari won’t take kindly to this. And they intend to kill anyone who gets in their way. That presumably includes our Dominican and Sir John.
And we have a secondary side story of the murder of the hangmen of London. Six have already been slain, their bodies stripped and dumped. Athelstan and Sir John are meant to work on this case, too. To say this book is busy is an understatement.
Another thing to note -- these are not books to read if you’ve just eaten. Westminster is a moldering mess, for instance. Or, conversely, you might want to pay close attention to Doherty’s judicious use of description -- sight and smell -- if you’re eager to be on a diet. It might put you off food for a while. And the scenes of the swarms of people that roam the streets, from royal messengers to warlocks, demonstrate Doherty’s power to bring his story so vividly alive. Take it all in, there’s more to come.
In and out of The Hanging Tree, a “most comfortable tavern,” everybody goes, including the Clerks of the Light, the remaining clerks of the exchequer. The ex-daughter-in-law of Clement and her now-husband own the tavern, Clement’s long missing son having disappeared after his father’s disgrace. The clerks are still suspects, someone among them probably knowing something of this “locked room” mystery. It’s up to our dynamic duo to ferret out the truth.
And one mustn’t forget the most colorful parishioners of St. E’s. Those goodfellows (and good lady) flit in and out, giving their perspective, providing their usual, often obdurately, contributions.
Athelstan eventually asks the eternal question – who benefits? Readers will realize it applies to both stories, the treasure and the hangmen’s murders. You’ll be doing a lot of thinking in this one.
Athelstan demonstrates how the crime was committed. And confronts an Angel of Death. And there is retribution and “justice,” in a particularly medieval fashion. And as to the secondary case, for the hangmen, he calls others to account for those heinous crimes, with swift justice also demanded.
An author’s note further explains the fictional and non-fictional aspects of the story, saying that he believes it “captures the very essence of the city and the people who lived, worked, prayed and died there.” “The Hanging Tree” certainly does that, and fans of Brother Athelstan and Sir John should find it a fitting addition to the series.
You don't read read Doherty!
You simply devour his beautiful and luscious prose and let yourself be swept away by his terrific storytelling!
"The hanging tree" is the latest Brother Athelstan Mystery, a
masterfully & superbly choreographed criminal investigation set at the beginning of Richard II's reign, a dark and very violent tale of murder and greed centered around the political and financial shenanigans of the King's powerful uncle, John of Gaunt.
A magnificent fictional journey into the world of the Italian bankers (the Lombards) present in London at the end of the 14th century and their shady relations with the corruption so inherent at the time around the wobbly throne of the young monarch.
But this fabulous novel is also an unflinching and unforgettable look at the harshness of English social life and customs through the nebulous brotherhood of royal executioners and hangmen at the beginning of one of the most tumultuous periods in English history.
A captivating read full of twists and turns, sparkling historical details and a big cast of exquisitely drawned characters, this marvellous novel will definitely engulf all your senses and offer you a dazzling reading experience!
This is historical fiction at its best and it deserves to be enjoyed without any moderation whatsoever!
Many thanks to Netgalley and Severn House for this terrific ARC
1382. This is a busy time for High Coroner Sir John Cranston and his secretary Brother Athelston, not only to they have to investigate the theft of crown gold and silver from the impregnable Flambard's Tower, but also the deaths of six members of the Guild of Hangman. Then there is the murder of Clement, ex Key-master, found in St. Erconwald's church.
An entertaining well-written and well-plotted historical novel of the time of Richard II. With its likeable main two characters, it is another good addition to this series which can easily be read as a standalone story.
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
A Challenging Locked Room Mystery
The novel opens with a large payment by the English Crown is in final preparation to be transferred to Italian banker’s ship the next morning. When the day clerks led by the Keeper in the Exchequer of Coin arrive, the only door to the tower where the treasure room is at the top of the tower was locked requiring unique keys for the special locks. Once inside, the announcing bell is rung three times, but there is no answer. They start up the narrow stairs loosening the trip cords on the way up. Upon unlocking the top door, they discover that all of the gold and silver gone, and all the clerks are sitting at their tables and garroted. They didn’t show any signs of defending themselves. They were all young and former men-at-arms and served in France during the wars. There is not any way that five battle-harden men could have been garroted with no signs of resistance. Brother Athelstan is assigned to assist the Lord High Coroner, John Cranston, to investigate this crime. The novel proceeds from this start.
The main storyline has major two threads. The first is the investigation which is narrated primarily by Brother Athelstan. The second is the perpetrators of the crime. There is minor thread concerning the murder of members of the Hangmen’s Guild including one that occurred in a tavern that the guild uses as it meeting place in front of other members. The complex and non-CSI-assisted investigation of locked room murders and theft of a considerable about of gold and silver quickly grabbed my interest and kept it until the end of the novel. This is a major criterion of mine for a high star rating.
The B-storyline is extensive shown in how Athelstan and Cranston act, talk and deal with each other and others. Much insight is obtained in the numerous discussions between each other as the investigation proceeds. I also enjoyed that Cranston’s enjoying every chance to eat well did show his inability for strenuous actions without huffing and puffing. Both of these characters were well developed in this novel and did not rely on previous novels that I have seen in several other long novel series.
As for the aspects that some readers may object, there are not any intimate scenes. Except for three of Cranston signature crude swear phrase, there are not any vulgar language and single-digit use of rude language. I rate these two aspects with a green flag. Violence is another matter. Even the descriptions of the faces of garrot victims and the damage of a handheld crossbow dart can be disturbing. I give this aspect of the novel a strong yellow flag, so let the reader be forewarned. This novel is the 21st novel in the series; I started reading this series with the 17th novel. I did not find any issues where I thought that I was missing a reference that appears to have occurred in an earlier novel. Lastly, for this section, the author uses many medieval terms that required that I quite often used my e-reader’s ubiquitous access to the dictionary, Wikipedia and Internet to determine their meanings. I do recommend that if you can read this on an internet capable e-reader.
What I liked the most in the novel also was the largest thorn in my reading. It was the authors use of medieval terms to give the novel a medieval feel. I enjoyed that, but it caused my reading to slow down to spend some time looking up the meanings of many words. I liked how the author implemented the locked room mystery, and how it was solved. While I am not a historian with knowledge of medieval London, the author’s depiction is quite stark but also fascinating. These aspects enhanced my reading enjoyment of this novel.
Having read the previous four novels in this series and one from another, I have placed this author in my May-Read, but this author is approaching a Must-Read level for me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. I’ve even purchased on Amazon the first novel in this series. If you like medieval England and a murder mystery, I recommend this book. I’m looking forward to reading more of this series and other novels by this author. I rate this novel with five stars.
I received a free e-book version of this novel through NetGalley from Severn House. My review is based only by my own reading experience of this book. I wish to thank Severn House for the opportunity to read and review this novel early.
Among the many (many, many, many) historical mystery series I follow, Paul Doherty's The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan is a particular favorite. Set in the 14th Century and featuring former soldier Brother Athelstan and King's Coroner Sir John Cranston, this title does what too few historical mysteries do and focuses on ordinary lives, not just those of a wealthy, privileged few.
The Hanging Tree opens with a major theft—a hoard of newly minted goal and silver coins, intended to pay back debts of the British Crown (really of the Regent John of Gaunt who was standing in for a young Richard II) to Italian bankers. But that treasure disappears the night before it is to be moved to the Italian ship that will carry it to its destination.
So, yes, the novel opens with a crime affecting the wealthy few, but Doherty helps readers see the multiple levels on which this theft shapes or threatens lives of a great many individuals: the clerks responsible for guarding the treasure, members of (and those excluded from) the Hangmen's Guild, common criminals and criminal masterminds, street performers, public house owners and their patrons, and, of course, the humble parishioners of Athelstan's church, St. Erconwald's.
Deaths pile up, all seemingly related to the theft, though that connection is often tenuous. Watching Athelstan and Sir John work their way through this complicated puzzle is deeply engaging, and the many individuals with whom they cross paths are interesting characters in their own right. If you enjoy historical mysteries that reward in terms of both cast and plotting, you have much to look forward to in The Hanging Tree.
I received a free electronic review copy of this title from Severn House via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.
I've been reading Brother Athelstan mysteries for ages and I haven't found any disappointing yet.
This is another atmospheric, gripping and solid mystery that kept me hooked and guessing.
The historical details and the characters are excellent as usual, Mr Doherty is a master storyteller.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
Treachery and treason. 1382
If ever any one can take you into the bowels of a Bosch painting with his descriptions of the London that our Brother Athelstan and Sir John Cranston, the Lord High Coroner tread it’s Paul Doherty. In this latest medieval mystery we have the locked room theme (here a locked tower) complete with murder most foul, stolen kingdom treasure, garrotted hangman being found across the parishes, and a further garrotted body in Athelstan’s own St Erconwald church, and hints of the mysterious and deadly Italian smugglers and robbers, the Carbonari lurking in the deep shadows.
Both Aleston and Sir John come under threat. Tasked with solving the theft of the Crown’s Treasury by John of Gaunt and King Richard II, our pursuers of truth are lead down a fantastical path.
Oh my! The bees in the beehive are well and truly buzzing as unseen enemies stealthily slip through their midst. Another intriguing Athelstan and Cranston enigma.
A Severn House ARC via NetGalley
(Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)
This is a wonderful return to the world of Brother Athelstan and Sir John Cranston - a locked room mystery with a difference .
Whilst drinking in the Hanging Tree Inn the pair are tasked with investigating the murder of the five Clerks of the Dark who have been guarding thousands of pounds gold and silver coins in the country's most secure chamber in the Tower of London .........killed on the eve before the monies were to handed over to pay back debts owed to Italian Bankers .
John of Gaunt and his henchman , Thibault , are under pressure to come up with the monies owed again unless Sir John and Athelstan can solve the "locked room " murders and recover to gold and silver coins .
When the body of the master locksmith who designed the keys to the tower locks is found strangled in Athelstan's own church , where he had been sheltering with promises of information that would help solve the case ............ it brings the case closer to home .
More murdered bodies ..........those of the city's hangmen , are found with notes pinned to their bodies referencing 'The Upright Men' ( the power behind the Peasants Revolt)- are they connected to the theft at the Tower ?
With all the murders beginning to point to a connection to the Hanging Tree Inn they have their work cut out for them to solve the various threads .
Another excellent engaging medieval murder , mystery from an Author who can do no wrong in my opinion - I look forward to reading more in the same vein in the future
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own
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