Brother Anselm and his novice Stephen are summoned to St.
Michael’s Parish. The church has been the site of recent hauntings, and the
mysterious warlock known as the Midnight Man is blamed for a demonic midnight
ceremony that opened the very gates of Hell on the parish. But as Brother
Anselm explained, these (undoubtedly) supernatural phenomena must have a human
cause—its root lies in the wickedness of a human heart. And so in order to weed
out these demons, Brother Anselm must find the human cause of their wickedness.
Stir in plenty of ghostly Gothic atmosphere, and don’t forget that impossible
crime that takes place in a locked church. And ta-da! you have the plot of Paul
Doherty’s The Midnight Man
Paul Doherty’s latest effort is a return to his Canterbury
Tales series, which is my personal favourite. The premise of this series is
that the pilgrims of Chaucer’s Canterbury
Tales have made an agreement that, at night, each of them should tell a
story about the night-time, a story to chill the blood. (This time, it’s the
physician’s turn, although there isn’t a physician appearing anywhere in the
story.) And so, in these stories, the supernatural goes without question. God
exists, and just as importantly, so does Satan—but their inclusion doesn’t mean
that you can’t have a fairly clued mystery thrown into the works!
That’s just what Doherty gives his readers, along with one
of the creepier entries in the Canterbury
Tales. While it doesn’t reach the level of horror that An Ancient Evil did, it’s still deliciously sinister and eerie. The
entire story is really steeped in the Gothic, what with the haunted church and
the shadowy figures in cowls who pose a threat to our main characters. The
Midnight Man is never seen at work until he is unmaksed, and this is doubly
effective— we have no idea what to expect. Some demon or phantasm? A deformed
monster from Hell? With no description to go on, we cannot narrow down the list
I’m very biased, because I absolutely love this series. This
seems to be Doherty having the most fun. He seems to really love the Gothic
ghost story he’s come up with, and he carefully crafts it page by page. Every
atmospheric touch is effective, and Doherty can let his imagination run wild
because the supernatural is allowed. Anything and everything can happen in
these stories, and so it’s a doubly impressive feat that there is a rational
explanation at the end into which the supernatural is incorporated. To be fair,
it isn’t a mind-blowing quadruple-twist; if the reader thinks really hard about
it, they’ll be able to spot the Midnight Man.
But that’s the sheer beauty of it: nine out of ten readers won’t think really hard about it. And
why should they? This is a fine story told with all the skill of a grandmaster
of crime. The fact that it’s a fair-play mystery is in itself astounding. I
seized on the completely wrong person as the Midnight Man early on, and was dumbfounded
when that person was unequivocally exonerated near the end of the book. And the locked church trick was pretty good, too. (Ha! Thought I'd forget to comment on that, did you?) That
speaks volumes for either my stupidity or Doherty’s skill—and I think both the
author and I would prefer to think the latter is the more correct explanation.
Once again, Mr. Doherty, a big thank you for returning to
this brilliant series. Your imagination has run wild once again and has given
me a few hours of tremendous reading pleasure. As a humble reader, I can ask
for no more than that.
|The term "fangasm" was made for stuff like this!|
Note: Why am I
reading this series out of order? Didn’t I vow to do so after reading Ghostly Murders? Well, there are two
reasons: I love this series but Steve of In
Search of the Classic Mystery did the chronological thing first, plus he said
there were no serious spoilers to previous entries. (This seems quite true, by
the way.) But more important than that, I ordered a signed copy of the book,
and simply couldn’t wait long to get my greedy little hands on it to read it.