THE SENTINEL by Jeremy Bishop

22 11 2017

It all starts when an anti-whaling ship rams a whaler off the coast of Greenland and the whaler, instead of turning the other cheek, rams it right back, rather more disastrously. But then the whaler explodes.

 

How? Why? What happened?

 

Read it and see. Then follow the adventures of the few survivors on a frozen island inhabited by “draugre”, Viking revenants – zombies under another, older name.

 

I liked the narrator, Jane Harper, a real kick-ass ex-military-brat, who responds with a sarcastic quip to everything Greenland and the paranormal can throw at her, but I have to say that while I found the story and the setting exciting I didn’t really get any feeling of “horror” – as promised in the subtitle.

 

As a horror story I would say it fails – 3 stars at most. As a thriller with an unusual setting and a very strong female protagonist, it succeeds – 4 or 5 stars.

 

So 4 stars.

 

And I shall definitely read the sequel, The Raven.

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YOUR BODIES MANY CRIES FOR WATER by Dr F. Batmanghelidj

18 11 2017

Probably the single most important thing we can do for ourselves when we are unwell is drink more water.

“You are not sick, you are thirsty.”

But not only when we are unwell. We need water, lots of water, to keep us well, says Dr Batmanghelidj in his best-selling book Your Body’s Many Cries For Water.

Read it, if you can get hold of a copy. But in brief, he tells us that our bodies require an absolute minimum of six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. And that means water, not coffee or tea, or fruit juice, or any other beverage. Water, plain and simple.

These six glasses would ideally be drunk as follows: one half an hour before each meal, and one two-and-a-half hours after each meal.

But that is the minimum, remember. We should also wash our food down with some water, and drink more water whenever we feel thirsty. Not only when we feel thirsty, though, but also when we feel hungry for a snack outside our regular meal-times: the body, especially as it grows older, becomes incapable of distinguishing thirst from hunger. While young people, who do know when they are thirsty, tend to quench that thirst with rubbish instead of water, many older people don’t believe they are thirsty at all and if given a glass of water just sip at it, merely wetting their mouths and throats and convinced that that is all they need.

As simply as dehydration will in time produce the major diseases we are confronting now. a well regulated and constantly alert intention to daily water intake will help to prevent the emergence of most of the major diseases we have come to fear in our modern society.”





SHROUD OF DISHONOUR by Maureen Ash

17 11 2017

A Templar Knight Mystery

 

Lincoln, May, 1202

 

It was not the third but the fifth book in this series which came my way – I am working serendipitously here with second-hand paperbacks – and this one opens with an unusual and mysterious Prologue: two Knights Templar outside a brothel in the suburbs of Acre (in Outremer, the Holy Land), one reluctant to enter, the other determined to go in and do his business – which is not, as it happens, what you might expect.

 

It is a story that would be all too easy to spoil by inadvertently blurting out “spoilers”; suffice it to say that what happens there, then, is intimately connected with the death a few months later in Lincoln of two prostitutes, and an attack on a third who manages to defend herself with a sharp little knife she carries on her belt (wise girl). (Though no doubt in modern Britain she would be charged with assault and being in possession of a deadly weapon.)

 

Why prostitutes? wonders our hero, Sir Bascot de Marins. Because they are easy victims, peculiarly vulnerable and defenceless? Yet the killer seems to be targeting the Templars rather than prostitutes as a group: he makes each murder look as though it had been committed by a member of the Order.

 

Or is the killer in fact a member of the Order?

 

Bascot, who first came to Lincoln (with Gianni, a starving street-kid he had picked on his travels, tagging along) in order to recuperate after eight years as a captive – a slave – in the Middle East, has now rejoined the Order and is due to sail for Portugal, where the Templars are committed to aiding the Portuguese in their fight against the Moors. But of course he is roped in to assist in the investigation and driven by his hatred of cold-blooded murder of the innocent and defenceless he does so with his usual quiet modesty.

 

But will he go to Portugal when all this is sorted out? Will the next Templar Knight Mystery be set there, among the olives and the orange trees? Or will this be the last of these books? You have to read to the very end to find out – and to find out who has been going around killing working girls, and why.

 

I love this series, which is set in my second favourite period (the 12th and early 13th centuries), in this case during the reign of King John, son of Henry II (though the King himself does not appear in this story). 





THE ALEHOUSE MURDERS by Maureen Ash

17 11 2017

The first of the Templar Knight Mysteries (I have already reviewed the second, here, and another – not the third but the fifth – follows immediately.)

Lincoln, AD 1200

No one had been told why the Templar was in Lincoln. Gerard Camville had said in passing that de Marins had been on crusade in the Holy Land with the now-dead King Richard back in ’91, and had been captured by the Saracens during a skirmish near Acre at the end of that year. After eight long years of captivity he had recently escaped. It was obvious that he had been tortured during his incarceration, for he wore a leather patch over the eye-socket of his missing right eye and walked with a pronounced limp. When, early one morning, he came into the hall to break his fast after attending Mass in the castle chapel, all eyes had turned his way but, although polite, he had said nothing of his past and seemed disinclined to talk about it. […]

As he began to recover his health, he had taken to practising his combative skills in the yard, first with a blunted sword against the wooden stake erected for the purpose, and finally with Ernulf in mock battle using both sword and shield. While he seemed to have regained his former weight, his prowess with a sword was hampered by the lameness of his leg and the blindness of one eye. For all that, he still made a formidable opponent for Ernulf, who needed all the tricks he had learned in his many years as a soldier to keep pace with the Templar

The scene is Lincoln Castle one year early in the reign of bad King John – though no one here seems particularly against him, or to remember his brother Richard the Lionheart with any affection. They do look back on the days of Richard and John’s father, Henry II, and his queen, Eleanor, as “the good old days”, but that is normal, as is one very bright old lady being scornful about Eleanor’s “Courts of Love”.

It is high summer. The Sheriff of Lincoln, Gerard Camville, is out hawking by the river with his wife, Lady Nicolaa de la Haye, and their attendants, when urgent news arrives: four people have been found dead in a local alehouse. It is Nicolaa who goes to sort out the problem. She is the chatelaine of the castle, her father’s heir, and tends to run things her way, with the compliance of her husband, who just wants to be left in peace to enjoy his knightly pursuits.

The man Nicolaa calls upon to investigate the murders, Sir Bascot de Marins, is one of the most interesting sleuths I have come across in years of reading such books. He is a Templar Knight on a kind of extended sick leave after spending eight years as a captive and slave in the Middle East and finally escaping to Cyprus. He is unsure whether he wishes to remain with the Order and his superiors show great (to me surprising) sympathy. D’Arderon, the officer in charge of the Lincoln Preceptory, has introduced him to Lady Nicolaa, and he has been given a room in the castle which he shares with a mute Sicilian street-kid he fed at some point on his travels and who has followed him like a dog ever since.

As you watch this man, wounded in body and soul, deal with these murders, with those around him, high and low, and with his own personal problems, I am sure that you, like me, will be thinking about getting hold of the second (and third!) books in the series while you are still only half-way through this one.

Unpretentious and excellent.





ALL GOOD DEEDS by Stacy Green

3 11 2017

Quite by chance, I started on All Good Deeds while in the middle of re-reading Edgar Wallace’s The Four Just Men, so I had a couple of days of vigilante justice delivered in two very different styles, one set in Edwardian London in 1914, the other in present-day Pennsylvania. And while the heroes of the London story are cultured middle-aged males (there are only three of them, actually) the protagonist of the modern story is a pushy, opinionated young woman who goes rushing in where “just men” would – no, not fear to tread, but certainly think very, very carefully before they trod.

Lucy’s one concern – and It’s become an obsession – is abused children. Years ago when she was working for the Child Protection Services, she was responsible for monitoring a boy of eleven who had been allowed to go on living with his family against her advice and had then murdered his nine-year-old sister. The boy, Justin, subsequently spent several years in juvenile prison but was later released back into society without being tagged as a child-molester. Lucy fought against his release because she considered him a danger but she was overuled by the judge.

Now a nine-year-old girl called Kailey has disappeared, been kidnapped, and Justin not only lives right there in the immediate neighbourhood but turns out to have been in direct contact with the girl prior to her disappearance.

So far as Lucy is concerned, she was right all along and this is an open-and-shut case. When she learns that the Detective in charge of the investigation is Justin’s half-brother and that he insists there is no evidence against Justin, she starts taking things into her own hands. Not for the first time. Several pedophiles who had evaded official justice have already met their maker after a brief encounter with her.

But further developments sow doubts in the reader’s mind about Justin being in any real sense a pedophile, or dangerous. And a young man approaches Lucy in a bar and informs her that he knows her secret: a word from him to the police would result in Lucy being arrested and charged with a whole series of murders.

The reader is torn in two.

Great writing.

But the moral of the story? All Good Deeds is described as “a psychological thriller”. I’m not sure what that means. That the bad guys have psychological problems? Well, yes, but so does Lucy, when judged by normal standards of behaviour in any civilised society.

I wonder where this will go in the second book in the series …

And The Four Just Men? It is a classic. A little slow perhaps (life then was slower) but essential reading. If you haven’t read it, read it. You can download it almost free from Amazon and completely free here.





WHITER THAN THE LILY by Alys Clare

24 10 2017

Kent, England, 1193

A while back, I picked this book up in India and carried it with me through Burma without ever having the time or the seclusion to start reading. Or being in the right – medieval – mood. Then I unpacked my bag in Bangkok and read the first few pages before I fell asleep – it was mid-morning, but I was tired – then carried on reading it in the evening sitting outside a bar on RCA when I should have been watching the world go by (I had come so far to see it!) until finally I had to put the book down when I was joined by my date: a man who, it turned out, seriously believed that books and women do not belong together, that education is wasted on us, and that literacy should be the preserve of men. I argued a little then gave up: it was easier to leave him happy in his own sense of superiority. After all, we were only together for one thing. For real companionship he would turn to his equals – other men. Very medieval.

Which brings me back to the book.

Whiter that the Lily comes somewhere in the middle of the Abbess Helewise/Josse d’Aquin series of medieval mysteries (it was one I had somehow missed) and is set in the year 1193, when King Richard the Lionhearted, was being held prisoner at Trifels Castle in what is now southern Germany. A huge ransom in gold has been demanded which Richard’s mother, the ageing Eleanor of Aquitaine, is busy extorting from Richard’s impoverished subjects in England. Apart from some sympathy shown by Abbess Helewise for her poorer tenants, though, we see little of the hardship, only enthusiasm for raising the money and freeing the (French-born and French-speaking) King from his humiliating captivity. Probably because the main characters are all Norman aristocracy.

Sir Josse d’Aquin is introduced to an elderly nobleman who promptly informs him that his very young and very beautiful wife, Galiena, is barren, and that she is desperate for a child. ‘She is a herbalist herself, my Galiena [he tells Josse]. She has tried everything she can think of. Even what I believe are quite desperate remedies.‘ The anguished expression making him look even older, he went on, ‘I see her at night, you see. Oh, she thinks that she does not disturb me, that I sleep blissfully on when she creeps out of my bed. But I awake, sir, always I awake. I perceive her sudden absence, even if I am deeply asleep. And I go to the window, from which I can look down on the garden, and I watch as she enacts her rites. Only often she conceals herself, you understand, she slips away to where I can no longer see her. It is easily done.’ He sighed. Staring out over the garden, dropping to a whisper, he said, ‘Naked under the moonlight she is, her lovely body so pale and white. So beautiful. So beautiful.’

Josse is embarrassed by these revelations, and sceptical about Galiena’s supposed barrenness (the man is old enough to be Galiena’s grandfather!) but keeps his thoughts to himself and, when pressed to do so, agrees that a visit to the infirmerer at Hawkenlye Abbey can do no harm and might well help.

Then the murder is committed – two murders, in fact – and Josse finds himself up against a strange pagan community left over from Saxon times and living deep in the marshes. What is the connection between the blonde, blue-eyed Galiena and these people whom she so resembles physically? Josse remembers the pagan dance Galiena used to perform in the garden at home before she ever went to Hawkenlye …

This is the account of his first “meeting” with the Saxon shaman of this community, the inheritor of an ancient tradition still living in Norman (Roman Catholic) times. It is night and having been caught in a great storm, Josse is sleeping out in a coppice on the cliff above the marshes:

It was still totally dark. Never before had he experienced the sensation of literally not being able to see his hand in front of his eyes. He was just experimenting, wriggling the fingers of his right hand to see if he could make out the movement, when it happened.

There was no warning, not one single sound to put him on guard. There was just the one flash of bright light and , right there in front of him, a face staring intently into his, so close that he could look into the silver-grey eyes and feel the cool breath on his cheek.

Then darkness closed in again.

Sweat breaking out on his cold flesh and his heart in his throat, Josse fought for control. His body remembered its training even while his horror-struck mind was in shock and he was on his feet, sword in hand, lunging forward out of the shelter, before he knew it. Then his voice came back and he shouted in a great roar, ‘Who’s there? Show yourself!’

Nerve endings tingling as he subconsciously awaited the blow, he twisted from side to side, his sword making great deadly sweeps in a wide arc in front of him. ‘Shiow yourself!’he cried again. ‘I am armed and I will attack if you approach again without warning!’

But I cannot see him, he thought. How can I attack what I can’t see?

He waited, listening.

There was nothing.

Presently the rain began to fall again.

As always with this series, Whiter than the Lily is excellently written, and this time with a stunning dénoument. Also this time, we see the Abbess Helewise at her best, and Josse, though as courageous as ever, definitely a little slow on the uptake.





THE TOWER’S ALCHEMIST by Alesha Escobar

17 10 2017

I received a free copy of this book from the Author Marketing Club in return for an honest review.

“British intelligence wants her spying skills. A vampiric warlock wants to steal her powers. The Master Wizards who trained her want her dead…”

The Tower’s Alchemist, the first book of The Gray Tower Trilogy,  has an authentic WWII setting among spies and resistance fighters in Denmark, France, Spain and, of course, London.

The protagonist, Isabella (aka Emelie and Noelle) is an alchemist, one of the magicians working with the Allies against Hitler’s Black Wolves (a kind of supernatural Gestapo). I identified with her immediately, from the very first paragraph, and stayed with her all the way through – no changes of viewpoint, thank heaven (or rather, thank Alesha Escobar). There is, however, an array of well-drawn characters surrounding her, many of whom elicit our sympathy – indeed, our love – as they struggle on against a seemingly invincible foe.

A great read if you are a WWII buff (I am), especially if you also suspect that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes in this world than 99.9% of us are ever aware of.