The Knocker on Death's Door
By Ellis Peters Thorndike Press - Large Print, (2003)
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - June 16, 2003
When an author becomes famous for a particular series, in a particular genre, it is easy for their other works to be overlooked. For example, Ellis Peters is well known, and well respected for her outstanding Brother Cadfael mystery series. Few people may realize, however, that she has also written a substantial body of work that is non-Cadfaelian. Her mystery novel, The Knocker on Death's Door is one such often overlooked gem. This book is also one of about twelve novels that feature her police detective, George Felse.
The The Knocker on Death's Door was originally published in 1970. This compelling mystery takes place in the village of Mottisham, in West Midshire, England. The story centers upon an ancient door that had been "acquired" by a local aristocratic family at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. At the opening of this story, the ancient door is in the process of being restored to Saint Eata, the local church from which it is suppose to have once belonged, along with much pomp and much gossip over the supposed history of this ancient door and the ornate knocker that is hung upon it.
As rumor has it, a curse is associated with the door due to it having 'killed' sinners in the past. According to local legend, the monks in the abbey, from hence the door was originally taken, were practitioners of the black arts. After the monastery had been closed, one of the monks had a change of heart and wanted to renounce his association with the devil. To this end he attempted to knock on the church door, with the goal of gaining admittance and salvation in the church. As he reached out and touched the knocker on the door, he was struck dead without a mark on his body.
Stories such as that of the dead monk go part and parcel with almost any ancient artifact - if you inquire deeply enough about it. However, in this case, the stories about an ancient curse seem to have some basis in reality when the door 'kills' again, just days after being reinstalled in the church.
The door's victim this time was Gerry Bracewell, a freelance photographer who thought that he was on to a 'story' about the door. When his body was discovered beside the door by Dave Cressett, the local auto mechanic, he, for one, did not think that the door had killed. After all, Bracewell's head had been smashed in with a rock. Cressett had seen the evidence for himself. While Detective Chief Inspector George Felse begins his own investigation into Bracewell's death and its connection with the door, Cressett also embarks upon his own quest for the truth.
While each man follows his own leads, they do work in unison and share information freely. Yet, can even their combined efforts prevent the door from taking more lives? In the process of unraveling this byzantine mystery, Peters vividly recreates an English village complete with a host of fascinating characters, including Robert and Hugh Macsen-Martel, scions of the local squire. The door in question was restored to the church from the Macsen-Martel home, where it had been used, for decades, as cellar door.
The Knocker on Death's Door is an excellent, well-paced mystery that comes complete with a chilling twist as the story comes to its dramatic conclusion. The ending is unexpected and satisfying, and this novel serves as an excellent example of one of Peters' non-Cadfaelian mysteries. Whether this is your first Peters' mystery, or your thirtieth, you are in for a treat!
The Potter's Field, by Ellis Peters.
This is the seventeenth chronicle of Brother Cadfael, in which Cadfael must discover the circumstances surrounding the death of a young woman, whose body was found in a field once owned by one of the monks in Cadfael's abbey. (Audio)
The Confession of Brother Haluin, by Ellis Peters.
Thinking he is going to die, Brother Haluin makes his deathbed confession, revealing the horrific sins that he had committed before becoming a monk. When he recovers, he sets out with Cadfael in an attempt to make amends for his sins. (Audio)