The Waxman was an English Privateer sunk by two ships of the Hanseatic League somewhere in the English Channel. It was carrying the Carta Mysteriosa, a book of maps of the sea lanes and charts of various parts of the ocean. The maps are very detailed and complete, making them extremely valuable, but with the sinking of the Waxman, the Maps are lost, and every man of the crew is believed dead, despite the fact that one of the men on board was a traitor who betrayed his captain and master to the German Hanse.
When the Hanseatic Merchant Wilhelm Von Paulents arrives in England three years later, it is rumored that he now has the Carta Mysteriosa, and Hugh Corbett, clerk of the Chancery and part-time problem solver for the King of England, is sent to Maubisson Manor, which has been set aside for the use of Von Paulents and his family, to deal with the man and get the charts back, if at all possible. Hugh travels there with his manservant and fellow clerk Ranulf, and finds that a disease has struck the German visitors, the same disease, and the Manor has been cordoned off from any visitors until the sickness is known and passes. But then one Advent Sunday, the Von Paulents family is found horribly and bloodily murdered in the manor, and Hugh and Ranulf are called to the manor to find out who may have killed them, and why.
The maps contained within the Carta are extremely valuable, such that any ruler of any lands that border on the ocean would pay a hefty ransom for them. But the mayor of Canterbury, a man named Castledene, was one of the men who was involved in the attack on the Waxman, and he wanted a specific map said to lead to the location of a buried treasure, an entire ship removed from the sea, filled with gold and buried somewhere in the wilds of England. The map Castledene was searching for was said to contain the location of the ship, or clues that would lead to its discovery. But the whalebone casket that should have contained the Carta was empty, and despite a thorough search of the ship, its despoilers were unable to find any trace of the maps.
But the murders of Von Paulents and his family are not the only ones that Hugh must find a solution for. Ralph DeContet, a notorious lecher is also killed, as well as others. But who could murder on such a grand scale and what are they looking for? Is it the maps or is it revenge? Or could it possibly be some other motive? But who could kill so many without being suspected or detected? And can Hugh unravel the motives and evidence and solve the mystery while winkling out the killer and bringing him to justice> Or has he finally met his match in a wily killer?
I love P.C. Doherty. He's a writer of numerous mysteries (this happens to be the fifteenth book in just this particular series), and he writes series set in British History, Egyptian History, and even now Greek History with Alexander the Great. But no matter when a series is set, he manages to make his readers feel like they are actually there and living the time and the place along with the characters they are reading about. There is never any wobbles that throw you out of the story or the time you are supposed to be reading about. And all his detectives are canny men who may seem to be flummoxed by the mystery they are presented with, but manage to come through and solve it in the end.
Hugh Corbett is just one of Doherty's excellent detectives, and although he is generally a mild, kind man, he can be fierce and hard when he needs to be. As Keeper of the King's secret seal, he is privy to information that most others lack, and he comes close to being a spy as well as a detective. I keep on being amazed at how hard it is to discover the true villain of the piece in one of his mystery stories until the actual reveal, when most authors somehow manage to telegraph the villain long before the end in a way I usually end up picking up on.
If you are tired of detective stories where you figure out the mystery before the hero does, and that's bumming you out, like it does me, P.C. Doherty's mysteries are the antidote to your mystery blues. Well-plotted and told, this is a series and an author who will keep you in suspense right up until the end. Both are highly recommended, for that as well as a near-perfect sense of time and place that will keep you reading and guessing right up to the end.