PW: You've been quite prolific since your first novel, The Death of a King, in 1985. Do you know which number The Gates of Hell is on your list of historical mysteries?
Paul Doherty: I think it's about the 71st. I'm prolific, but I also believe I'm very lucky, because when you go to the original sources and you read about people like Alexander, the character is fully formed. Alexander's mother, Olympias, she was someone who springs off the pages—Alexander's attitude toward his mother, you could write a novel about that alone. He once turned to a general and said, "My mother charges a hell of a rent for nine months in the womb." These are people that you almost feel you know. I think I'm very lucky, as compared to someone who has to perhaps create a character from nothing.
PW: Recently, you've been alternating the Alexander mysteries with the ones set in Egypt with Amerotke the judge. Do you like to keep a couple of series going at the same time?
PD: Yes, I do. When you move from culture to culture, it's easy to develop quite a distinct character. Amerotke is searching for a murderer against what is supposed to be a most harmonious background, the Egypt of Thebes and the great temples. If you go to the Alexander series, Telemon's is a fast-moving world, it's an army on the march.
PW: How many series have you done?
PD: I think at the very most four or five, or five or six. When I did my thesis for Oxford University, one of the fascinating things I came across were all these horrible crimes hidden away in the records of the court, which cried out to be written about. I always feel that your reader wants to be taken back and to read something that is a new interpretation. I also think it's very important to convince your reader that what you're writing about is actually based in fact.
PW: You used to employ pseudonyms, such as "Ann Dukthas" or "Paul T. Harding" for the Brother Athelstan series. Are you releasing everything under your own name now?
PD: I am now, yes. That was initially on the advice of publishers, but now I prefer just using my own name.
PW: One of the most difficult things to bring off is the murder inside a locked room, but you almost always have one—in several of your recent novels you actually have two locked room puzzles.
PD: I think it's like a game of chess. If I kill somebody, what I do is try and pass the death off as an accident, or too impossible to solve, and that's the real challenge that faces the investigator.
PW: Since Alexander died so young, do you have a sense of this series being finite, building toward a definite final novel?
PD: I think the series will continue. As Alexander advances deeper into Persia, it's really quite ironic, he's no longer facing danger from the Persians but from his own army. Then it gets even sharper—it's not only his army, it's his own generals, people who were boyhood companions, they realize he's going to march to the rim of the world, and they've had enough.
PW: What's in the works at the moment?
PD: One of the biggest projects I've finished is a trilogy on the great Akhenaten, the heretic pharaoh of ancient Egypt, and his rise to power. I thoroughly enjoy writing history mysteries, and I'm even more pleased to be into nonfiction, as well, with The Mysterious Death of Tutank-hamun and Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II. I'm going to start in a month's time writing a nonfiction analysis of Alexander's death. If you look at the sources for Alexander, he was constantly surrounded by intrigue and at least five assassination attempts. I have a very strong suspicion that he was very possibly murdered.