The Joys of Nature

25 05 2015

with books in wood





BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE by Jane Isaac

25 05 2015

Before Its Too Late cover

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review.

A fairly standard and straightforward British police procedural set in Stratford on Avon and featuring for the first time Detective Inspector Will Jackman.

A Chinese girl, Min Li, has been abducted while spending a year in England as a student, and it is her we meet close-up-and-personal as it were when the story opens with a dive into the deep end told in the 1st Person and printed in italic. It acts as something like a prologue, but there are further chapters where we return to her in her horrible rat-infested cell scattered through the book.

The bulk of the story, though, focuses on DI Jackman and is told in the 3rd Person.

This works well, but Jackman himself didn’t really interest me. He is too ordinary. Exactly what you might meet at a provincial police station in the UK, no doubt, but fictional detectives need to be a little more extraordinary in some way.

And again, the story is set in Stratford-on-Avon – Shakespeare’s Stratford. Yet the events could just as easily have taken place in any ordinary connotation-free provincial English town, for absolutely no use whatsoever is made of its being set in Stratford.

One more gripe: we all know that many American writers (though never the top-rank ones) have terrible trouble with LIE-LAY-LAIN and LAY-LAID-LAID, but British writers don’t. Or shouldn’t. Yet again and again we find ourselves stumbling over lines like: [Alice (Jackman’s daughter)] laid flat on the floor of her study, eyes clamped together, Bach playing in the background. Alice loved Bach. Whenever she had a research problem, she laid in the dark with her music … (And “eyes clamped together“?)

But all that said, the strong female victim made a nice change and I did enjoy the story: witness the fact that I have just downloaded the author’s earlier The Truth Will Out – which I hope is better edited than this one!





TARGET CHURCHILL by Warren Adler and James C. Humes

20 05 2015

Target Churchill coverThe story opens with a vivid description of Beria’s NKVD men replacing the SS in the wake of Zhukov’s race across eastern Europe and into Germany: the one quite as bad as, perhaps even worse than, the other. General Dimitrov, a Georgian like Beria (and Stalin) has spotted someone he thinks might be useful among the SS men they are executing en masse (no POWs here!) – an SS Obersturmbannfuhrer and marksman named Franz Mueller, who is also a US citizen. Dimitrov tests his commitment by setting him to shoot two dozen of his erstwhile SS comrades and, that done, recruits him and sends him off to Washington to live quietly and await orders – just another one of Beria’s countless moles spread out around the world.

Meanwhile, a disgruntled Churchill (having lost the UK election to Atlee, who is, in Churchill’s view, soft on “Good old Uncle Jo” Stalin) has received an invitation to receive an honorary doctorate and make a speech at a minor American university in President Truman’s home state. Believing as he does that Stalin and his cohorts represent quite as great a threat to peace and freedom as Hitler ever did – though very few people agree with him – Churchill decides to sieze the opportunity of a widely publicised event (Truman will be there on the platform with him) to warn the world about Stalin and communism as he once warned them about Hitler and nazism.

He composes one of his most famous speeches – it is the speech in which he introduces the phrase “the Iron Curtain” to posterity – but it is all to be kept under wraps until it is delivered. He does not want the Russians upset and Truman embarrassed in advance (Truman and Stalin are still oficially allies). However, the First Secretary at the British Embassy in Washington (the man who runs the show) is a certain Donald Maclean (click on the name if it doesn’t ring a bell) and Maclean arranges matters so that his master in Moscow (Beria) receives a copy of the speech long enough in advance for the mole (now Frank Miller) to be activated: Target – Churchill.

I have probably given away more of the plot than I should, but it doesn’t matter, you can get all this and more from the blurb and the many reviews around. What matters is the detail, especially the bringing to life of Churchill as he was in 1946, immediately after the end of the war. Revered throughout the world (where he wasn’t reviled) yet rejected in his own country and out of power, but certainly not impotent, for the pen is mightier than the sword and a great wordsmith (“the greatest wordsmith of the century”) could still compose speeches that would alter history. Which was why, in the view of the Russians, he had to be silenced.

HIghly recommended for all lovers of WWII fiction





THE HEALER by Christoph Fischer

14 05 2015

Healer - coverSomething very different here.

Erica has pancreatic cancer. She has only weeks to live. In desperation, and on the advice of Hilda, once her secretary (until she had to stop work) and now her friend, she turns to Arpan, who twenty years earlier had been a celebrated natural healer specialising in pancreatic cancer but was discredited as the result of a smear campaign by the pharmaceutical companies and the newspapers.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I won’t tell you what happens when he finally agrees to accept her as a patient. But I must tell you that a certain Julia enters the story at this point. Julia works for an international pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland and her predecessor had been instrumental in bringing about Arpan’s disgrace. Now she homes in on Erica, the first person Arpan has treated in twenty years. Why? Because she wants the formula for the elixir Arpan injects into his patients before treating them by his own more spiritual, rieki-like, method. Finally, Erica finds herself in the middle, the go-between. Arpan insists the elixir is nothing, does nothing, it is the rest of the treatment that works. Julia insists the rest of the treatment is mumbo-jumbo, she wants the formula for the elixir, will pay millions for it.

A fascinating look at the reality behind the cancer industry’s fear of and ruthlessness with apparently successful alternative practitioners, and at those practitioners’ helplessness in the face of multinational giants and of the medical establishment for whom anything not strictly in line with their views is heresy. (Oh, the connotations of that word!)

Believable characters – so believable it comes over sometimes like a news story or a documentary – and a totally unexpected ending, which was, I have to say, a little bit puzzling. I still have to work it out and make it fit the rest of the story.





MARYAM AL QARTAYANNI – THE LONG ROAD TO PARIS by J. M. Munro

12 05 2015

The review now, as promised in my last post.

Maryam coverIn 1374, in the still very Moorish south of Spain, a girl is sold into slavery. After various adventures including a shipwreck, two years in a bordel in Cuenca and an encounter with a lamia, she is freed by her new master, a rich Moor whose life she has saved – but on condition that she takes with her the mysterious young slave-girl Malika and returns her to her home which (from what Malika tells them) seems to have been somewhere in the north of Spain or the south of France.

First, though, they make their way back across Andalucia to the village near Cartagena where Maryam grew up, and there she meets an elderly Scottish knight, Sir Farquhar de Dyngvale, come in search of her late father, who was himself a Scot in exile. He takes her under his wing and they head north together, first in search of Malika’s family, then, she hopes and dreams, to Paris.

To start with a minor gripe, in the early part of the book we follow Maryam, and simultaneously, in alternating chapters, we accompany Sir Farquhar as he makes his way down through Spain in search of his old friend Sir Andrew MacElpin, Maryam’s father. This switching back and forth of viewpoint is something I always find off-putting; however, once they meet there is no more of that and the story flows on ‘unputdownably’.

My own favourite parts of the book are, first, Maryam’s recollections of her childhood by the Mar Menor, a ‘little sea’ in the south-east of Spain, where her Moorish grandmother, Sebah, taught her to dance and she studied all kinds of arcane subjects with her ‘uncle’ Rabbi Yacoub, while the rest of the time she spent swimming in the sea, all alone. Secondly, the period they spent in Avignon, when they had left Spain behind, and Maryam found herself for the first time on the run from the powers that be, which in Avignon, then the seat of the Popes, meant the Church, and the Church meant the Inquisition.

There are scenes of sex and violence, but no more so than in most books set in that period. Life was like that. (When wasn’t it?!) But there are also scenes such as those where we meet secret Cathars in the north of Spain and Blanche, the anything-but-orthodox ex-Queen of France, in Avignon, that bring home to us some of the most mysterious and tantalising aspects of the late Middle Ages.

Maryam al Qartayanni: The Long Road to Paris is one of those stories you read fast the first time, then later, at home now in this very different world, you read it again and this time you savour it to the full.





Maryam al Qartayanni: The Long Road to Paris

10 05 2015

Maryam cover

Sex slavery is nothing new. It is probably one of the oldest forms of merchandising on the planet. In the south of Spain in the spring of 1372 one young girl of mixed descent (her father was a Scot in exile) was left an  orphan and sold into slavery. She was fourteen and her real name was Marian MacElpin, but from then on she was known as Maryam of Cartagena – Maryam al Qartayanni.

Maryam al Qartayanni: The Long Road to Paris is a rewrite of the first Mariana medieval mystery, which I had reviewed very positively while the author and I were colleagues on the late, lamented MedievalMysteries.com. When he asked me to read this completely new and retitled edition I was delighted to do so – though naturally concerned. I had liked it as it was! But I needn’t have worried. It is the same story but it reads faster and some of the excessive detail on the subject of Cathars and the Magdalene Heresy has been heavily pruned. It struck me, too, that the emphasis now is more on Mariana (Maryam) herself rather than on “the medieval mystery” – the mysterious child she is charged with restoring to her home and family. Better, because it is Mariana we are interested in and shall be following in the sequels

It is still not published on Amazon but is available on Kindle THERE for pre-order until the 14th May at 99 cents – or you can download it free HERE.

(I’ll be posting a full review on this site in a the next couple of days.)





A Painting by Ramon Casas

7 05 2015

Ramon Casas

Men are best kept between the covers of books …








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