Relax, Buddy …

24 11 2015

Very busy with other things at the moment, but wanted to share this …vacuum cleaner


8 10 2015

Wicked Winter coverSerendipity again. But it happens to me so often when I pause before a shelf of second-hand books or squat down beside a cardboard box overflowing with third or fourth-hand books they are virtually giving away, that I think synchronicity would be a better word for it.

There I am, thinking I haven’t read a Roger the Chapman story for a long time, and later that day, or sometime the next day, there is a Roger the Chapman book pushing itself foward, offering itself on a platter to my greedy eyes and fingers.

And thus it was that a couple of days ago, I lit upon Kate Sedley’s The Wicked Winter, the sixth in the series, and set in bleak early spring – still winter! – of 1476. (I’m guessing the date as it is not specifically stated anywhere in the text.) Roger, now a widower with a baby daughter and a mother-in-law who looks after the baby – and Roger, too, when he comes home and stays put for a while. But he has itchy feet and soon sets off on his travels again.

For those of you who don’t know the series, Roger is a natural sleuth and has come to the attention of Richard of Gloucester (later Richard III), who has made use of his talents, but Roger prefers life on the open road, a life of peace and quiet, and here in this book when he sets out it seems he is going to get it. There is no summons from Richard bidding him hasten to London or wherever. What does happen is that he falls in with a puritanical friar, Brother Simeon, who is doing the rounds of the villages and manor houses preaching hell and damnation to all who will listen, and together, in a snow storm, they arrive at Cederwell Manor, where they discover the body of Lady Cederwell at the foot of the tower half buried in snow.

An accident? Neither Roger nor Brother Simeon thinks so, but that is the explanation given and accepted by the family.

The weather worsening, the two chance companions are obliged to stay at the manor house, which suits Roger at least because his sleuthing instincts have been aroused.

And are aroused still further when another murder occurs and an attempt is made on his own life.

His first suspect is naturally Sir Hugh Cederwell, who would clearly much prefer to be married to his beautiful neighbour, the widow Ursula Lynom, rather than his morbidly pious late wife. But all is not what it seems and there is more to it than that.

As with all Kate Sedley’s mystery novels, you are kept guessing – and turning pages! – until the last chapter.

But what I want to draw attention to here is some of the detail she brings in that I have come across in no other books set in that period.

For instance, the game of “camping” played by the village children. (You’ll have to read the book to find out about that.) And this: She rolled a little ball of beeswax into a pellet, popped it in her mouth and started to chew, a habit I’ve noticed amongst many people who like to exercise their jaws between meals. After a while they will spit the beeswax out, lodging it wherever is handy; under the edge of a table, on the rung of a stool, or even on the rim of a cooking-pot … Remind you of anything in the modern world?

Or a very apposite quotation from Walter Hilton’s The Scale of Perfection, which Roger happens to pick up and leaf through in Lady Cederwell’s chapel.

My eyes fell  on some words in the Scale of Perfection.’It needeth not to run to Rome or Jerusalem to seek Christ, but to turn thine thoughts into thine own soul where He is hid …’ They were true when they were written, they are true today, and they will be true tomorrow and ever after.

Wonderful light – and not always so light – reading. If you can get hold of a copy. It seems to be out of print and for some reason has not been made available for download as an ebook, which is a great pity.

HERETIC by Bernard Cornwell

4 10 2015

Heretic CoverIn Heretic, the fighting in France continues, for these are the opening rounds of the Hundred Years War. The Prologue (thirty pages long) tells the story of the seige and surrender of Calais in 1347. It was to stay in English hands for the next three centuries.

After the seige is over, Thomas of Hookton heads south into the County of Berat in Gascony with his Scottish friend Robbie Douglas and a band of English archers. He is under orders from the Earl of Northampton. He is to retake the fortress of Castillon d’Arbizon and make that his base while he carries on his quest for the Holy Grail, which he does not really believe in; in reality, Thomas seeks his cousin Guy Vexille, who murdered Thomas’s father, and later his wife. Vexille does believe in the existence of the Grail, and he thinks Thomas can lead him to it. They are in effect hunting each other, going round in circles.

When Thomas arrives in Berat, and takes control of Castillon d’Arbizon, he finds himself responsible for carrying out an execution by burning scheduled for next morning. When he asks why exactly  the heretic was condemned, Father Medous, the priest, answers: ‘Cattle died,’ he said, ‘and she cursed a man’s wife.’

Thomas looked mildly surprised. ‘Cattle die in England,’ he said, ‘and I have cursed a man’s wife. Does that make me a heretic?’

‘She can tell the future!’ Medous protested.


‘What future did she see?’ Thomas asked.

‘Death.’ It was Lorret who answered. ‘She said the town would fill with corpses and we would lie in the streets unburied.’

In the end, he refuses to let them burn her. Why? Because the condemned woman, Genevieve, is young and beautiful? Thomas is not sure. After all, he is nothing if not orthodox in his beliefs. And the next thing he knows, he too is being excommunicated – for sheltering a heretic. But Genevieve is unimpressed: ‘Excommunication means nothing.’

‘It means everything,’ Thomas said sullenly. ‘It means no heaven and no God, no salvation and no hope, everything.’

After some more typically Bernard Cornwell action, a pestilence arrives in France from Italy. It is the Black Death, though people do not of course know that at the time: they just see Genevieve’s prophecy coming true all around them as the town becomes filled with the dead and the dying.

An excellent culmination to this exciting series; and the ending is totally satisfying on all counts.

PS I don’t usually do long quotes, but here is a passage I know I will always remember and would like to share:

‘Genevieve!’ he shouted. ‘Genevieve!’

Then he saw her.

Or rather, in the instant glare of a splintering streak of lightning, he saw a vision. He saw a woman, tall and silver and naked, standing with her arms raised to the sky’s white fire. The lightning went, yet the image of the woman stayed in Thomas’s head, glowing, and then the lightning struck again, slamming into the eastern hills, and Genevieve had her head back, her hair was unbound, and the water streamed from it like drops of liquid silver.

She was dancing naked beneath the lightning.

She did not like to be naked with him. She hated the scars that Father Roubert had seared into her arms and legs and down her back, yet now she danced naked, a slow dance, her face tilted back to the downpour, and Thomas watched in each successive lightning flash and he thought she was indeed a draga. She was the wild silver creature of the dark, the shining woman who was dangerous and beautiful and strange. Thomas crouched, gazing, thinking that his soul was in greater peril still for Father Medous had said the dragas were the devil’s creatures, yet he loved her too; and then the thunder filled the air to shake the hills and he squatted lower, his eyes fast closed. He was doomed, he thought, doomed, and that knowledge filled him with utter hopelessness.

‘Thomas.’ Genevieve was stooping in front of him now, her hands cradling his face. ‘Thomas.’

‘You’re a draga,’ he said, his eyes still closed.

‘I wish I was,’ she said. ‘I wish flowers would grow where I walked. But I’m not. I just danced under the lightning and the thunder spoke to me.’

He shuddered. ‘What did it say?’

She put her arms round him, comforting him. ‘That all will be well.’

He said nothing.

‘All will be well,’ Genevieve said again, ‘because the thunder does not lie if you dance to it. It is a promise, my love, it is a promise. That all will be well.’

VAGABOND by Bernard Cornwell

29 09 2015

Vagabond coverOnce again full of such medieval outsiders as an English archer who is the bastard son of a half-mad priest with an aristocratic French background that includes rumours of Cathar ancestors and of knowledge of the Holy Grail; the beautiful widow of a French nobleman, now an outcast because of her low birth and the rumour that her mother was Jewish; and a mad Dominican Inquisitor, obsessed with the Grail, Vagabond, the second book in the ongoing story of Thomas of Hookton starts in the north of England, where Thomas, his French woman, Eleanor, who is now pregnant, and his friend the priest Father Hobbe, have travelled to Durham in search of information about Thomas’s mysterious father. Here, Thomas becomes involved in a battle with invading Scots led by Sir William Douglas, and after the battle it is Douglas’s nephew Robbie who accompanies Thomas back to Hookton and then on to Guernsey and so to Brittany.

What have they in common? They are both hunting Guy Vexille, Thomas’s cousin and arch-enemy, the murderer of Thomas’s father. Guy Vexille also murdered Robbie’s brother. But Vexille himself is now accompanied by a Dominican Inquisitor, Bernard de Taillebourg, who, in turn, is hunting Thomas. This is Vexille speaking of de Taillebourg when Thomas is their prisoner: ‘He likes burning people […] He does like it. I have watched him. He shudders as the flesh bubbles.’

You can’t get much worse than this priest, you think, as you read about de Taillebourg. But wait till you meet Cardinal Louis Bessières, de Taillebourg’s master. Here he is walking by the Seine on a sunny winter morning:

A legless man with wooden blocks on his stumps swung on short crutches across the road and held out a dirty hand towards the Cardinal whose servants rushed at the man with their staves. ‘No, no!’ the Cardinal called and felt in his purse for some coins. ‘God’s blessing on you, my son,’ he said. Cardinal Bessières liked giving alms, he liked the melting gratitude on the faces of the poor, and he especially liked their look of relief when he called off his servants a heartbeat before they used their staves. Sometimes the Cardinal paused just a fraction too long and he liked that too. But today was a warm, sunlit day stolen from a grey winter and so he was in a kindly mood.

And as always in Cornwell’s books, along with the great characters, such vivid descriptions of seiges and battles that you feel you were there. Another great read.

HARLEQUIN by Bernard Cornwell

27 09 2015

Harlequin coverThis is the first in the Grail Quest series of novels and I have to admit that I enjoyed it very much. I say admit because I also have to admit to a bias against Bernard Cornwell. He is just too popular, and the fourteenth century was never his period. I give in: he is a master of the genre, and can, it seems, turn his hand to any period.

Not only is his research meticulous but he has an instinct that makes him seem as at home in the period as any specialist. Like Paul Doherty, who is a fourteenth-century specialist, and has produced several novels set in ancient Egypt.

This book begins when Thomas’ village, Hookton, on the south coast of England, is wiped out by a band of French marauders. A common enough occurrence in those days leading up to the the “official” opening of the Hundred Years’ War. But why such a small village, where they had believed themselves safe? Thomas knows. It was to steal the relic, the lance of St George, that belonged to the village priest. This priest, Thomas’ father, is killed by the raiders, as is his housekeeper, Thomas’ mother. Thomas himself, whose father had sent him to Oxford to study to be a priest, but whose great love has always been archery and the great yew bows the English archers used, kills four of the attackers and survives.

Now? “Oxford could go to hell for all he cared, for Thomas had found his joy.” And his purpose in life. He would be an archer. He goes to France with the English army, intent on revenge and on fulfilling the vow he made to his father, to retrieve the lance: not made any simpler by his father’s dying words, that the Frenchman who had killed him and stolen the lance, the mysterious Harlequin, was in fact the priest’s nephew, and thus Thomas’ cousin.

The book ends with by far the best description of the Battle of Crécy I have ever read. Thomas, one of the celebrated English archers who made that battle pivotal in the history of warfare, survives it. Which takes us to  Vagabond, the next in this excellent series.


6 09 2015

KramskiA thriller set in England with a Russian and an American as two of the three (or should that be four?) protagonists. Four, I think, because the three men that are there from the outset and form the nucleus of MI7 are soon joined by a young woman, Marcie Brown, who plays a larger and larger part as the story progresses until, it seems, she takes over completely and is the girl from Kandahar in the sequel The Girl from Kandahar. I haven’t read that yet, but definitely will.  There are several other extremely sympathetic characters who might be contenders for other reader’s choice of favourite character, but myself I identified with Marcie all through this first book and am sure I shall continue to do so as her adventures in Kandahar unfold.

Altogether, an excellent start to what could turn out to be an outstanding mystery series.


6 09 2015

In-BetweenerThis is Zombie Apocalyptic done really well, how the phenomenon came about and how it works set out more clearly and more credibly than in any other zombie story I’ve read. And the main characters, a man of 23, once a teacher, now trying to look after a mixed bag of children who survived, though far from unscathed, and a girl of 17 (I think) who has been on her own for a year following the death of her mother, are both very real and completely unforgettable.

Definitely not one to be missed if you like this sort of thing – and even if you don’t. You may even change your mind about the whole genre!

And an “in-betweener”? Someone who has died then come back to life; not a zombie – yet.


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