I’m not generally a fan of mysteries, except for those of P. D. James, but if it’s about Edward II, I’ll buy it, so naturally I eagerly awaited The Cup of Ghosts by the amazingly prolific Paul Doherty (not only does he manage two or three novels a year, he’s a school headmaster). It’s the first of a promised series featuring Mathilde, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabella.
Mathilde, who has been training as a physician in Paris under the supervision of her beloved uncle, finds her world shattered when King Philip begins persecuting the Knights Templar, an order to which her uncle belongs. To save Mathilde’s life, her doomed uncle sends her to the house of a friend, who in turn sends Mathilde to the household of young Princess Isabella. Sexually abused by her loutish brothers and full of hatred toward her father, Isabella regards Mathilde with suspicion at first, but becomes her devoted friend when Mathilde chases Isabella’s drunken brothers out of her bedchamber. In the meantime, several people have died horribly, in and out of court, and more deaths follow when Isabella marries Edward II and travels to England. Shrewd and with a physician’s eye for unnatural death, Mathilde is a natural to investigate what she realizes must be murders–and a natural target for murder herself.
I admit that as the body count grew higher and higher in this novel, my interest began to flag somewhat–I would have liked fewer corpses and more time to get to know the living. Still, there’s a lot to like here. As Alianore in her review noted, Edward II and Isabella are attractively portrayed (though I doubt whether Isabella’s brothers merited their portrayal here as child molesters, and incestuous ones at that). I particularly liked Mathilde. Resourceful, courageous, tough, and at the same time kindly and warmhearted, Mathilde is a heroine I look forward to seeing again.