Labour’s authoritarian wing is cracking down on sex workers

4 05 2016

For a change, Jeremy Corbyn seems to have got it right – and enraged the Politically Correct in his own party.  This is a reblog of a great article  – read the article HERE





THE WAXMAN MURDERS by Paul Doherty

4 05 2016

A mystery featuring medieval sleuth Hugh Corbett

Canterbury and East Anglia, 1272, 1300, 1303

Waxman MurdersIn 1272, King Henry III had died. His son Edward was on Crusade in Outremer (the Holy Land) at the time, and, in the absence of a king, law and order broke down. Rifflers pillaged isolated homes and farms. Among those attacked was the Blackstock’s manor house outside Canterbury.

The Blackstocks had two sons. The older boy, Hubert, was at school in Canterbury, but the younger son, Adam, watched his own mother being raped and murdered, then saw his father killed and his home burnt down.

By the year 1300, Adam had become a North Sea pirate with his own ship, the Waxman, and Hugh, who had pursued his studies and become a monk, had abandoned the cloister and disappeared from sight – though all men feared him as much as they did his brother.

A map purporting to show where a great treasure was buried in Suffolk had fallen into Adam’s hands. He was sailing to the Orwell estuary to deliver it to his brother when he was intercepted by two ships and killed in the ensuing battle. The map disappeared.

Now, three years later, a series of murders have been committed in Canterbury.

Sir Hugh Corbett, sent by king Edward (whose main interest is the map and the treasure) to investigate, finds that the beautiful lady Adelicia has been accused of one of the murders – the victim was her detested and miserly husband – but  he has reason to believe that they are all in fact connected, and may be the work of Hugh, Adam Blackstead’s mysterious elder brother.

Then Hugh himself receives a threatening note – from someone who seems to be able to kill with impunity, anywhere, any time.

As I have said before, and will no doubt say again, Paul Doherty is the maestro when it comes to Medieval Mysteries, and this is another one not to be missed.





THE TOLLS OF DEATH by Michael Jecks

4 05 2016

Cornwall, England, 1323

Tolls of DeathThis is one of the earliest – and best – of Michael Jecks’ Templar Knights series. One not to be missed if, like me, you are a lapper-up of Medieval Mysteries.

The Prologue to this story opens:

There were two happy men that day in Cardinham in the summer of 1323, and one who was fearful.

Serlo the miller had every right to be concerned. Although he feared ruin, he was about to be murdered, for reasons he could not begin to comprehend, and at the hands of one whom he would never have suspected.

I like that: He was about to be murdered. You find yourself waiting for it, you are drawn in at once and don’t have a long, long wait for anything to happen as in so many Michael Jecks books.

The two happy men that day in the summer of 1323 are of course Siman Puttock and Sir Baldwin Furnshill. They are happy because they have arrived back in England after their pilgrimage to Compostela in the north of Spain (read The Templar’s Penance) and now have only to make their way from Cornwall into Devon and be home, at last.

But while they are in Cardinham a woman named Athelina is found hanged and her two sons dead with her in their cottage. Suicide. An act of desperation. In despair, she killed her children then took her own life.

Baldwin, predictably, does not agree. And the who-cares attitude of the brainless young coroner only increases his determination to bring the killer of the poor woman and the two boys to book.

There are the usual array of memorable characters Jecks creates each time he writes a book just for that one book. For instance, here you have the miller, Serlo – the one who is to be murdered – and his protective elder bother, the bailiff, Alexander, who will be desperate to avenge him. You have Richard atte Brooke, who returns to the village after fifteen years’ absence, having left when his family all died in a fire. It seems that he hates Serlo, blames him, indirectly, for the death of his family. Will he be Serlo’s murderer? But how does he fit into the three deaths we already have? It turns out that he is in love with, has always been in love with, poor Athelina.

And then there is Anne, the exquisitely beautiful Lady Anne, a starving orphan who became a prostitute and finally won the heart of Nicholas, the castellan, commander of the local garrison. He knows nothing of what she did as a child in order to survive, only that he adores her and that she is now pregnant; but is the baby his?

All this, and much more, takes place against the historical background of Mortimer’s escape from the Tower. At this juncture no one knows whether he is still in England or has managed to get away to Ireland or France, but many sympathise with him and hate the grasping Despensers and despise the rather pathetic King Edward II whom the Despensers seem to lead by the nose. Will he flee to the south west and turn up in Cornwall? And what will they do if he does? One of the great things about this series is the way it arouses your interest in the history of the period. You close the novel and rush to the history book.

Read it, even if you have already read later ones in the series. The knowledge of what comes later won’t spoil it, and reading it will fill in gaps in the on-going background story.





I don’t like cats, but

3 04 2016

I’ll make an exception for this one!

That's not how it was





THE ASSASSIN IN THE GREENWOOD & THE SONG OF A DARK ANGEL by Paul Doherty

3 04 2016

Two medieval mysteries featuring Hugh Corbett

England, 1302

In his cold, cramped cell in the monastery outside Worcester, Florence the chronicler lifted his milky, dim eyes and stared out at the darkness beyond his cell window. How should he describe these times? Should he recount all that he had heard? Was it true for instance that Satan himself, the prince of darkness, had reisen from the depths of hell with his horde of black-garbed legions to tempt and terrorise the human soul with visions from the pit? He had been told that an evil sea of demons, rumbling and boiling over the face of the earth, amused themselves disguised as snakes, fierce animals, monsters with crooked limbs, mangy beasts and crawling things. At midnight, so Florence had heard, the heavens rumbled with thunder and lightning flashed above a restless sea of heads, hands outstretched, eyes glassy with despair.

[…]

In the dark streets and alleyways of Paris, which ran together in a spider’s web on the far side of the Grand Pont, more practical men laid their schemes and drew up plans to discover Philip’s true intentions. Sir Hugh Corbett, Edward I of England’s most senior clerk in the chancery, master of the King’s secrets and Keeper of the Secret Seal, had flooded the French city with his agents: merchants osensibly looking for new markets; monks and friars supposedly visiting their mothr-houses;scholars hoping to dispute in the schools; pilgrims apparently on their way to worship the severed head of St Denis; even courtesans who hired chambers and entertained clients, the clerks and officials of Philip’s secret chancery.

Assassin in the GreenwoodTwo more of Paul Doherty’s Sir Hugh Corbett novels have recently come my way. Both are excellent – of course – this is Paul Doherty – but I especially enjoyed The Assassin in the Greenwood. I imagine this was because it features such familiar characters as Robin Hood, Little John, Will Scarlett, Maid Marian and, of course, the Sheriff of Nottingham, the evil Sir Guy of Gisborne. But – this being Paul Doherty – it is not as simple as Hugh Corbett meets Robin of Locksley and we all have fun in the greenwood. Far from it.

The book opens with the other plot. Philip the Fair of France is planning to invade Flanders, an important ally of England’s (the wool trade!) while Edward of England is engaged in his ongoing war with the ‘rebellious’ Scots. As England and France are officially at peace, Edward cannot interfere directly. What he can do, though, is learn exactly when and where the French army will cross the border, and inform the Flemings. Ranulf, Hugh’s right-hand man, is in Paris with a team of spies trying to find out just that.

Meanwhile, in Nottingham, Robin Hood, who had made his peace with the King and retired to his estate, suddenly takes to the woods again, where he, Little John and Maid Marian begin robbing and killing with a ruthlessness and ferocity they had never shown before, including seizing the King’s own taxes en route to London and killing all the soldiers who were guarding it. Then the Sheriff of Nottingham himself is poisoned during the night in his locked room.

Sir Hugh is sent to Nottingham and Ranulf joins him there with a document supposedly containing the information Edward is waiting for. But it is in code and they cannot break the code.

Then Hugh receives a message from London telling him that Philip has despatched an assassin to murder him. The assassin, who might be anybody, is already in Nottingham.

As always, the minor characters are a joy. Take Henry de Lacey, Earl of Lincoln, the King’s cousin. How would you picture him after reading about him in the history books? Ah, but after reading this book he will be there vividly in your mind for ever – and all from one brief appearance.

Song of a Dark AngelThe events recounted in The Song of a Dark Angel take place as winter sets in later in that same year, 1302. On a beach near Hunstanton in Norfolk, where the wind sweeps in off the North Sea all winter long (the Dark Angel of the title is the local name of this north-east wind), a headless corpse is discovered. The missing head has been impaled on a pole, and hanging on the gallows nearby is the body of the wife of the local baker.

But why has the King sent Sir Hugh and Ranulf to investigate what seem on the face of it two quite ordinary, if violent, deaths, one of which may have been a suicide?

Can it have anything to do with the fact that the King’s grandfather, Bad King John, lost all his treasure in the Wash when the treacherous tides swept in faster than anticipated? And that certain items from that lost treasure have recently surfaced in a London pawnbroker’s, and that the present King is strapped for cash?

Another great tale by the inimitable Paul Doherty, full of unexpected twists and turns and the usual unforgettable medieval characters.





Widows celebrate Holi in Uttar Pradesh

24 03 2016

Indian widows colorfully break a 400-year-old taboo

widows Holi

On March 21, thousands of widowed women gathered at temples in Vrindavan in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to celebrate the spring festival of Holi. In doing so, they violated a 400-year-old Hindu tradition. More …





THE BISHOP MUST DIE by Michael Jecks

24 03 2016

England, 1326

Bishop Must DieLady Isabella Fitzwilliam wept quietly as she prayed for her poor dead son Roger. She hoped that he was safe, but she could guess all too easily how harsh his life would have become.

Dust and ashes, that was her own life: everything she had loved and sought to defend was turned to dust and ashes. Her hopes and dreams, the children, the husbands – all would have been better had she never lived. To be born, to live with hope, to wed a good man only to see him die; to wed again, but to have him taken from her in turn, that was too cruel. How could God, the All-seeing, the All-powerful, punish her so cruelly?

The Father, her confessor, had told her that He would be eternally kind to her when she died; that her suffering in this world was to be an example to others, and that they would benefit marvellously from her bearing in this time of woe. She was a source of strength for all those who know her. A pious woman in adversity was a wonder to all, he said.

He was lucky to be alive.

I love that “He was lucky to be alive”!

The bishop in question is Bishop Stapledon of Exeter, Lord Treasurer of England. The downfall of King Edward II continues, and in the background are our two heroes, Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and his ex-friend, the ex-bailiff Simon Puttock. For yes, in the on-going soap-opera of the Knights Templar Mysteries, not only has Simon lost his job on the moors but also his best friend.

In this book, Stapledon takes pride of place, as he has been threatening to do since The Templar, the Queen and her Lover. For the good Bishop, in an attempt to placate the implacable, has been sucking up to (I am tempted to use a much more vulgar expression here!) the brutal and rapacious Sir Hugh le Despenser and the besotted monarch who allows him to run the country for his own personal profit. Not that Stapledon can pass on all the blame to Despenser. He is pretty rapacious himself in his endless quest for more and more money for the great cathedral he is building. And unlike Despenser, he has the gall to claim when he is responsible for widows and orphans being lkeft homeless that it is all done in God’s service.

Naturally, he has made and is still making an abundance of bitter enemies. In this book we follow the stories of not one but three men, each the victim of gross injustice at his hands and each plotting their separate revenge.

As always with these books, there are so many strands to the story that it is very difficult to get into, with Jecks hopping mercilessly from one subplot to the other, one minor character to the other. But I made an interesting discovery. I had finally given up on the book, having fallen asleep over it so many times, bored and confused. But then one evening, in an idle moment, I chanced to pick it up again and start reading from the beginning and – hey presto! – I read straight through it with the greatest of ease and the greatest of pleasure.

For the fact is that in order to be able to follow what is happening you need to know who all these people are and – yes, you need to know already what is happening!

Like all Michael Jecks’ novels, then, a long and fascinating tale set firmly in one of the most traumatic periods of English history. And if it doesn’t grip you first time round, I think it will the second time.








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