cover image A Tapestry of Murders

A Tapestry of Murders

Paul C. Doherty. Minotaur Books, $21.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-14052-6

Swift, intriguing and sometimes bleakly comic, this ""dark tale of blood and passion"" is told by one of Chaucer's pilgrims, the Man of Law. As he regales his fellow travelers with the horrendous events of 1358, the well-defined pilgrims offer surprising revelations of their own. The lawyer tells of Vallence, a French courtier favored by England's dying dowager queen Isabella, who was fatally stabbed while trying to flee the country. After the respected judge investigating the killing is in turn foully murdered, the Sheriff of London calls upon his kinsman Nicholas Chirke, a struggling young lawyer, to discover what the secret was that Vallence was trying to convey to France. The story takes off with lightning speed. As Nicholas and his enigmatic assistant, Scathelocke, begin to pry, an appalling number of corpses fall in their wake and a lovely murderess is seen busily dispatching underworld denizens as well as respected citizens. The atmosphere is wonderfully thick, as medieval London is revealed in all its foulness--its fetid air, greasy fog and a populace of rogues and vagabonds. Despite Doherty's tipping his plot hand too early, this second in the Canterbury mystery series (after An Ancient Evil) remains an absorbing, richly detailed story of malevolent men--and women--in devious pursuits. (Mar.)