The House of Death

By Paul Doherty

I wish I could write as fast as Paul Doherty… This father of seven children, headmaster of a big comprehensive school, writes mostly historical mystery novels under a variety of pseudonyms. Lately, though, he seems to have started to use his real name for almost all his output. Paul Doherty, Paul Harding, Michael Clynes, Ann Dukthas, C.L. Grace, and Anna Apostolou — it’s all the same author.

  • Author: Paul Doherty
  • Title: The House of Death
  • Pages: 276
  • Published: 2001
  • Publisher: Constable
  • ISBN: 1-84119-302

I’m quite fond of his output. Some of his output. I rather like the Brother Athelstan series, first published under the name Paul Harding, which its sympathetic treatment of the protagonist and his religious life. The Brother Athelstan books also seem to feature quite carefully constructed plots, interesting characters and a nicely balanced structure.

The Hugh Corbett books, on the other hand, don’t appeal to me. They are so sloppily and hastily written that the books often become completely incomprehensible at a third to a half of the text. It took some convincing to get me to believe that Paul Harding and Paul Doherty were the same person.

The more standalone novels, like The Rose Demon feel more ambitious. The Rose Demon in particular is a strong and sometimes terrifying book. And Domina reads like a badly translated Life of Caligula in places, with word-wooze for a filler.

The House of Death is stronger than Domina, with an interesting, sympathetic protagonist, a well-rendered portrait of Doherty’s  interpretation of Alexander (although I sometimes wondered whether Paul Doherty hadn’t confused Lord Vetinari and Alexander the Great). The mystery plot is superficial; the underlying spy story unconvincing. But the pacing and the interaction between the characters manages to make up for those problems, somehow, somewhere.

The historical, or perhaps world-building, details, like the description of a doctor’s work, or an emperor’s megalomania are strong points. Perhaps not everything is completely accurate, although I don’t doubt Doherty has done his research, but it was fun to read.

And that’s important, too…