The story opens with a prologue in which a 71-year-old woman with a ne’er-do-well son whose wife has left him and who has come home to live with her is murdered. By the son, we wonder? We already know he had gambling debts and that his mother refused to give him any more of her money.
But we soon realise there is much more to it than that.
At first glance, what we have here is a fairly straight-forward murder mystery with the usual divorced and world-weary cop, Detective John Brophy, and an equally divorced but female PI (an ex-cop) who thinks he needs a woman in his life; and then there is Josh Kincaid, an investigative journalist (our hero) who is working on this murder and simultaneously on the claim that a certain Harrison Taylor had been framed years earlier for a murder which turns out to be connected to the murder we started with; finally there is Riley Ashcroft, an orphaned heiress done out of her inheritance, who is making the waves on behalf of her childhood friend, the convicted murderer Harrison Taylor.
That might seem like a spoiler but actually I am trying to help. The first few chapters are marred by too many changes of scene and character and viewpoint. So much so that I would probably have given up on it, except that when I agreed to review this book I promised to read the whole thing. And it is certainly true that once you get it all sorted out in your mind the story flows well.
It could, however, do with some serious editing. There are misspelt words – I am becoming inured to that with the great dumbing down going on all around us – but there are vocabulary errors that leave one wondering whether English is the author’s second language. (For example: “With his obvious exhalation, Ellis had decided …” Exhilaration, perhaps?) Why is it that writers whose English is not one hundred percent believe that their books do not need the attention of a competent editor? A professional must be a master of the medium he/she works in.
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Tags: Boston, murder mystery
Categories : Book Reviews, Fiction (Contemporary)
All The Old Men Are Gone
All the old men with beautiful manners are gone.
They with courtly manners
who brush their lips over your hand
who look up the white pillar of arm
meet eyes with sweet kindness or desire-
The Hungarians, Italians and Russians
who murmur into faces
and translate with twinkling spheres,
a desire found ‘deep in their hearts’
or perhaps like a well-oiled
Casanova, who glides across
the room and anchors your vanity to his side.
They are all gone, dissolved in the waters of time.
You were glad for the flirtation,
it made the stomach flip,
it brightened everything-
Life -Suddenly- Worth- Living!
If even for the evening
or a few hours until dawn
you were young and desirable once more.
With these now-ghosts,
the light came forth from dull shadows
like diamonds thrown onto mirrors
the room was a crystal ball spinning
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Categories : Poets and Poetry
This is not an easy book to get hold of. I already knew and admired Kathleen Herbert as the author of Looking for the Lost Gods of England and Peace-Weavers and Shield-Maidens – Women in Early English Society. It was only recently that I realised she had written a novel set in early Anglo-Saxon times, that it had won the Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize, and then had unaccountably been allowed to go out of print. And is still out of print. Why are such books not made available through as eBooks (Kindle etc) and via Print On Demand? Surely the authors would be happy? What is the publishers’ problem, that so many wonderful books are simply unavailable, despite the fact that the technology to make them permanently available has been in place for years?
Anyway, I managed to get hold of a second-hand copy. (From AbeBooks, who are highly recommended if you are searching for out-of-print books, much more efficient than Amazon.) I have read hundreds of historical novels; many have faded from my memory; many others have not; but if I were asked to name a select few that I will always remember in detail, that made a place and period come alive for me and remain forever part of my experience of life, this would be one of them.
Riemmelth, princess of Cumbria, great-granddaughter of Urien and only heir to the kingdom of Rheged/Strathclyde, is forced into a dynastic marriage with Oswy (Oswiu), brother of King Oswald of Northumbria, first Bretwalda (High King of all Britain) and later Saint.
We follow her adventures in a half-Christian, half-pagan society, as Elfwyn, a princess of Deira who had been expecting to marry Oswy, tries to organise her demise by both natural and supernatural means; as Oswald is killed and her husband, Oswy, becomes king; as she falls into the hands of the brutal Penda, king of Mercia; as her loathing of the hated Anglian invaders and in particular her husband gradually changes to … something else: that meeting of the peoples which created England.
If you are interested in this period, or if you simply enjoy a good historical novel with an unusual setting, this is for you. Do try to get hold of a copy.
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Tags: Anglo-Saxon England, Kathleen Herbert
Categories : Book Reviews, Fiction (Historical)
Time I got down to some serious reviews (I’ve been travelling and otherwise occupied, but I have been reading!) – before I do though, I just want to share a few of my favourite post-US-election memes:-
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Categories : Images
This novel, by the late and sorely missed Alice Borchardt, is the fantasy version of the legend of Guenevere (here Guinevere, Gwynaver and Guynifar). (“You must understand, my name was not written down. Those who say and sometimes write it use what form they care to. So the spellings sometimes differ greatly. So much that it might seem as though I had many different names; but in reality, I still have only one. And, like all true names, it was a word of power.”) The book is filled to overflowing with the magic and mystery one has come to expect of Alice Borchardt including, of course, shape-shifting: Maeniel (“The Wolf King”) plays an important role in Guenevere’s upbringing, is indeed the father-figure.
In this version of the story, Merlin and Igrane [sic] are lovers. They are also sorcerers, and the villains of the piece: young Arthur is being reared by them, a virtual prisoner and destined to rule in name only as their puppet. This long-term plan of Merlin’s was supposed to include Guenevere; she would also have been brought up by them, then married Arthur (this marriage has been foretold far and wide) and become a puppet queen. However, she was rescued as a baby by Dugald, a druid, and Maeniel, the werewolf. Now, as a pert teenager (everyone calls her “pert”, and she is!) she faces a series of superhuman tasks, the accomplishment of which will prove that she is the hero destined to both occupy the dragon throne of the Painted People and rescue the Fisher King (Arthur) from an Otherworld. (Another world? There seem to be several.)
Guen, then, is of the Painted People, the Picts: no new idea (for a full discussion of this possibility, indeed probability, see Norma Lorre Goodrich’s “Guinevere”), but here in “The Dragon Queen” the Picts are made flesh.
“The Painted People are great artists. I cannot think they will be appreciated as the Greeks and Romans are, for they work in ephemeral materials, cloth and wood, not stone. Their silver and gold work is magnificent, and some of that may survive. They all seem to be warriors, even the women […] The bull, boar, snake, wolf, salmon, dragon, and the patterns of each dance, the colours of the wind and sea, were all met in their clothing. The designs picked out on their skins in blue, green, red, gray and gold.”
These are the people to whom Guen comes after a great fight, with the head of her enemy in her hand: “With my cracked ribs searing, I ran up the nearest housepost, using the carvings to climb. I should be ashamed, I thought. The armor set off my bare body the way an enameled setting displays a rare jewel. Even the blood streaming from the gashes Merlin’s champion inflicted were part of the grim beauty of my flesh. I knew the eyes of every man, and not a few of the women, were fixed on me, and that fear alone hadn’t saved my life.”
Now she must lead them against the Saxons: “We all knew what they were after – women, ivory, walrus, sealskins, wool. Pictish wool is the best in the world. But above all, slaves. The eastern countries had an insatiable appetite for them, and a beautiful girl would bring a dozen pounds of gold on the block in Constantinople, especially if she were blond. As the woman in Igrane’s hall had suggested, the slave trade was booming.”
Meanwhile, Arthur (having met Guen and witnessed a clash between her and Igrane where Igrane came off worst) has also rebelled and in consequence been consigned by Merlin to another Otherworld, where he finds that the test is simply to stay alive: in order to do so, he takes the shape of first a salmon (shades of T.H. White!), but as a salmon faces death every instant. Then a snake, which he finds more “wholly other” than the salmon. And finally a young female eagle, a creature “capable of both love and loyalty”.
My only problem with this wonderful book is the continuous switching of viewpoint. In the opening chapters it is truly confusing and quite off-putting. Then it settles down, and the reader becomes used to the First Person Guen as opposed to the Third Person of alternating chapters, which is more and more usually Arthur. But by this time there is no confusion, we know all the characters, we know what is happening; now the problem is that we are (or at least I was) far more interested in what was happening to Guen, and each cliffhanger meant a chapter with boring Arthur till I could find out what happened to her next. However, when Arthur becomes a salmon, things improve, and even I forgot poor Guen for a moment.
A thing that needs saying always about Historical Fantasy is that the fantasy should be real fantasy, in the sense that it is what people believed, that it is in accordance with the mindset of the people of the time. To them the notion of space-travel would have been fantasy.
In this book, the fantasy is always real; scrupulously so.
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Tags: Alice Borchardt, Arthur, Guenevere, Merlin, Picts
Categories : Book Reviews, Fiction (Historical), Fiction (Paranormal)