cover image The Masked Man

The Masked Man

Paul C. Doherty. St. Martin's Press, $16.95 (174pp) ISBN 978-0-312-06409-9

In his latest historical mystery, Doherty ( The Fate of Princes ) tackles the story of the Man in the Iron Mask, a prisoner of such political consequence that Louis XIV of France ordered him locked away, forbidden to speak to anyone and condemned forever to wear a mask to hide his identity. (Dumas pere turned this actual historical incident into the famous novel.) Here, both Louis and the mysterious prisoner are dead when Ralph Croft, master forger, is plucked from the Bastille and enlisted by the French regent to determine the masked man's identity. Working with murderous musketeer D'Estrivet and royal archivist Maurepas, he uncovers a web of intrigue that involves plots against the crown, the Knights Templar and a fallen finance minister. There are even occasional winking references to those other famous Dumas characters, the Three Musketeers. Doherty's exposition of the historical record is often clumsy, and he cannot resist letting Croft somewhat anachronistically ponder the fate of the ancien regime. Still, it's all good fun--even if the author's tongue is planted firmly in his cheek. (Dec.)