The Waxman Murders

The Waxman Murders by Paul Doherty. The main theme of this Hugh Corbett mystery is one of duality. Two brothers who turn criminal, two successful businessmen threatened with revenge, two locked-room murders, and several characters concealing their second, secret lives. When privateer Adam Blackstock is captured and hanged aboard his ship, The Waxman, his bounty-hunter brother Hubert, a master of mimicry and disguise, vows reprisals against the two men involved, Canterbury merchant turned mayor, Sir Walter Castledene and his Hanseatic colleague Wilhelem von Paulents. Three years later, in 1303, Castledene and Paulents are meeting to decipher an encrypted map showing the location of a buried treasure near Suffolk. Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal of Edward I, and his clerks, Ranulf and Chanson, have been sent to Canterbury to assist in unlocking the map’s code, to ensure that the King gets his share of the treasure and to investigate the charge of murder against a former King’s ward, Lady Adelicia Decontet. She is suspected of killing her husband, though he was found bludgeoned in his locked chancery with the only key to the room still on his belt. However, Corbett soon has more to consider as Paulents and his entire family are found dead, despite having been locked in and surrounded by city guards. As the King’s representative, soon Corbett also receives threats and warnings from Hubert to stay out of his business.

Despite a clever villain and an equally clever solution from Corbett, this book did not fully hold my attention throughout. Ranulf’s character, who often provides a contrast to the brooding Corbett, was almost non-existent. Corbett repeatedly interviews the same suspects, getting the same answers, and visits the murder scenes several times over. Perhaps these repeated cycles were meant to show the difficulty of the case or the drudgery that sometimes accompanies investigative work for the crown, but they did little to advance the story and combined with an unnecessary ten-page recap of all the action about two-thirds of the way through, left me wishing for a more speedy end.

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