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THE HANGMAN'S HYMN
by P. C. Doherty
St Martin's Minotaur, December 2004
224 pages
$22.95
ISBN: 0312300905


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

P C Doherty has created a series of books taking up where Geoffrey Chaucer's books left off. Each of the travelers in CANTERBURY TALES were responsible for telling two stories - one that was humorous and one that was a horror story. Chaucer never wrote the tales of horror that his travelers told. This exclusion allows Doherty to step in and create the tales. In THE HANGMAN'S HYMN, the carpenter tells his tale of horror.

Simon Cotterill is a carpenter/woodworker. He arrives in Gloucester in pursuit of a young woman; however, he is warned to leave her alone. He is unwilling to leave but cannot find a job in his trade. Without any other options available to him, he agrees to assist Friar Martin and joins a group of hangman. The other hangmen do not treat him as one of their own, but they do attempt to welcome him to the group.

They are called upon to witness the trial of three witches. Agnes Ratolier and her two daughters - Eleanor and Isabella - have been killing young women traveling outside of the town. They are convicted and sentenced to death. The hangmen are told to take them out to the woods, hang them, watch the bodies for three days and then bury them. The witches escape death and vow to kill everyone responsible for their conviction. Simon must rely on his wits in order to escape with his life and bring the murderers to justice.

Attempting to adapt a set of characters and plot already in existence is a risky venture. While the majority of the populace has most likely not read CANTERBURY TALES, just about everyone is familiar with the general idea and purpose of the book. When the original characters and storyline are as familiar as CANTERBURY TALES, the author must confront the fact that not everyone will be happy with the changes and additions.

Doherty does a decent job of recreating Chaucer's characters and their actions. He does not attempt to mimic Chaucer's writing style so the language is not comparable. By not writing in Middle English, the book is more approachable to the average reader even though some of the bawdiness of the original is lost. Whether this tale is something that Chaucer's carpenter would have told is something that only Chaucer - or a die-hard Chaucer fan - would be able to answer.

THE HANGMAN'S HYMN: THE CARPENTER'S TALE OF MYSTERY AND MURDER AS HE GOES ON A PILGRIMAGE FROM LONDON TO CANTERBURY is the fifth book in P C Doherty's Canterbury series.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, December 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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