Trading Places

31 05 2018

No time for reviews at the moment, but I couldn’t resist this question when I happened upon it.

And the answer is … Now, this evening, Jayne Lyons, in The Medievalist. She time-travels back to the 15th century and meets and falls in love with Richard III. I have just finished re-reading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, the best investigation into the murder of the Princes in the Tower ever written and will review it here asap. Suffice it to say that I would give anything (almost) to be in Jayne Lyons’ place right now!

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LIVE BAIT by Jim Hawkey

2 04 2018

Again, it was the vomit-making stench that alerted me.

I peered in through the gate. A vegetable garden and a yard, and beyond, the back door of a two-storey house. It was lying on the ground in the yard.

It may be shamming, but I was faster.

I went in, crept closer, poised to fly at the slightest movement. Nothing. Just black blood – blood was the wrong word – black ichor seeping from its chest.

It knew I was there, though.

Knew I was just a girl, a whore and harmless. Prey, not a predator.

Then it spoke. ‘Tell the other I’ve got his scent.’ An unvoiced rasp, but quite comprehensible. It moved and I jumped back, but it was only shifting slightly, onto its side. Perhaps it could speak easier, breathe easier, like that. ‘I’ll tear him apart.’

Did they breathe? I needed to know much, much more about the Undead.

‘You are dying. Again.’

‘I heal. By tomorrow I will be healed.’

I had no doubt that what it claimed was true.

‘Are you Harold Turner, Jocelyn’s husband?’ I asked, trying to occupy his mind while I searched the yard, tried the door. It was open.

It laughed. I think.

‘No?’ I said from the door. The way it was lying now, it could not see what I was doing.

‘I’m Alfwin. Alfwin Host-thief.’

Host-thief? ‘You stole the Host from a church?’ Even I was shocked. ‘When? While you were still alive?’

‘For that they killed me. That and other things. But I have overcome their death.’

‘Their death?’ I went in and left him talking to himself. The kitchen was as Jocelyn must have left it. I picked up a cleaver and walked back out.

‘ … they had my body. I didn’t need it. I knew this one awaited me.’

‘Why do you seek out priests?’

‘They’ve always been my enemy.’

Well, we had something in common.

‘I stole the Host for the witches.’

‘The witches were your friends?’

There might be something else we shared.

‘They told me how to – ‘

I brought the cleaver down on the side of its neck with all my strength.

It sprang to its feet.

I fled. A hundred yards up the alley, I realised it was not following me. I walked slowly back. Stopped at the gate and peeped in. It was still on its feet, but its head was hanging sideways, resting on its shoulder. Then as I watched, the head slid forward dangling over its chest. It fell to its knees, then flat on its face with a thud that shook the ground.

Only it wasn’t flat on its face exactly, it was flat on its head.

I waited a few moments. There was no sign of life – or undeath – at all.

A pitch-fork caught my eye. I went and picked it up, hefted it. Yes, that would do nicely.

I went back to the thing and thrust both prongs deep into its buttock.

No reaction. And when I pulled it out, just more black ichor following the prongs slowly up out of each hole.

I dug the prongs into its side and turned it over.

It was dead. Or at least, this body was.

I threw down the pitch-fork, retrieved the cleaver from where I had dropped it when I fled, and proceeded to hack away at what was left of its neck until the head came free.

But what to do with it? One thing I knew, I must not leave it near the rest of the body.

Time to go. Time I was back at the Shag!

But the head …?

The Abbey. I would throw it over the gate and run! Leave it there for that gate-keeper or the prior to find. On hallowed ground!

I didn’t get a chance to write a review of Live Bait after I read it the first time, so, as it is a long book with a large cast of characters and a lot happening, I re-read it before putting pen to paper (literally – I always prefer to write everything out longhand first.) I remembered thinking the first time that this was the best description of life in a medieval brothel I had ever come across. In fact it is a realistic and vivid description of life in a brothel at any time, ancient or in modern, in any less than civilised setting– and I do know the brothels of Delhi and Bangkok, the former well, the latter less so.

There are two brothels involved in this story, the Green Unicorn in Southwark, and the Shag which once stood outside the old Roman wall of Colchester in Essex. (By the way, a shag is a kind of cormorant! – there is a painting of one of these birds on the sign outside apparently.) I suspect that the one in Southwark will play a greater part in the next story as the present story unfolds during the years 1379 and 1380, and 1381 is the year of the great Peasants’ Revolt when the peasants marched out of Kent and Essex and stormed London. Most of this book is set in Essex, but it is not the looming rebellion that concerns us here, it is the all-too-visible revenants, night-walkers and wraiths which Mariana faces in Colchester and out on the Essex Marshes, not to metion the invisible cloud of Undeparted Dead that surrounds us at all times,

The book opens with Mariana paying a disastrous visit to the Savoy Palace in London, home of the Lord Regent, John of Gaunt, where she has an appointment with Gaunt’s sister, Princess Isabella. That chapter has been posted HERE on the “A Tudor Writing Circle” site, and it was noticing this that prompted me to get this review posted. Please do visit that site to get another taste of this story.

Soon after that catastrophic visit, Mariana is recruited by ex-Queen Blanche of France to the Arcane Net, a network of spies and secret agents set up by the late Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV to keep track of all practitioners of the Dark Arts, indeed of all arcane activities. It is as Blanche’s agent that she is sent to Colchester to trap and kill (re-kill) one or both of the undead serial killers operating in the area: the first is a revenant, a corpse up out of the grave tearing priests and monks apart, and the other a wraith tearing the throats out of “green-eyed sluts” (“like you” Blanche tells Mariana).

Mariana soon comes to realise (a) that it is not her cover as a local prostitute which is in danger of being blown, but her identity as Lady Marian MacElpin, her real self – everyone believes that she really is and always has been a prostitute – and (b) that she is there not so much to entrap and decapitate the Undead as to be the live bait in a plot of which she knows little or nothing.

Don’t miss this story! But I have to say that it is not a stand-alone. You really do need to have read Mariana de la Mar 1 (Of Witches, Whores & Alchemists) first, and perhaps also the prequel to the series, Mermaid out of Water (which I haven’t reviewed here yet, but will soon, I promise).





COLD SIGHT by Leslie A. Kelly

30 01 2018

Aidan McConnell is a psychic living in retirement – in hiding, we might say – after making a mistake and subsequently being blamed for a child’s death. Blamed not only by others, but by himself.

Lexie Nolan is a reporter with the local small-town newspaper. She, too, is in disgrace, after claiming that a series of missing teenage girls were not runaways and quite separate incidents, but all victims of kidnapping and possibly murder at the hands of local people important enough to be able to cover the whole thing up. This of course led to accusations of jumping to conclusions and threats of libel suits, and brought her paper into disrepute. Now she is hanging onto her job by the skin of her teeth.

But when another teenage girl goes missing and Lexie is expected to report it as simply another runaway kid from a “garbage family”, she has had enough. She knows of Aidan McConnell, of course, knows his story, and while not believing in “all that psychic nonsense” knows that he has a record of successfully locating victims such as this girl. Only she prefers to call it intuition, having a hunch.

At first he is not remotely interested, but when they do finally get their act together …

The corrupt mayor, judge, police chief and bank manager are vividly portrayed and totally convincing. A small-town version of the Washington DC swamp. Perfect.





The alphabet book tag A-Z

9 01 2018

I took this very nice idea from mrsrobinsonslibrary.wordpress.com – please visit her there to see her A-Z.

Now for mine …

A – Author you’ve read most books from: Paul Doherty, without question. I’ve read one or two of his books set in ancient Egypt and I like and recommend his books set in the Rome of Constantine the Great and Helen – see for example my review of Murder Imperial and The Song of the Gladiator – but it is his medieval mysteries I am addicted to. They consist, apart from one or two stand-alones, of three series, each its own little world within a world and quite unforgettable: The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan; the Hugh Corbett Medieval Mysteries; and the Canterbury Tales of Murder and Mystery.  The links are to my reviews of one of the books from each series.

B – Best sequel ever: for me, this has to be The Lord of the Rings, originally conceived and written as a sequel to The Hobbit. It won my vote for Book of the Century in the year 1999.

C – Currently reading: I’ve just started on Shepherds by J. Drew Brumbaugh. I’ll review it when I’ve finished it. (The review is now posted HERE.)

D – Drink of choice: While reading? A cuppa – a nice cup of tea, English style.

E – E-reader or physical book? I’m growing accustomed to my Kindle Reader, and it is much lighter (less strain on the wrists!) than the hardcover editions I love. Cheap paperbacks I’m not fussed about and I rarely buy new ones now, though I do buy secondhand ones when I come across something I fancy by chance somewhere.

F – Fictional character you would probably have dated in High School: Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. I loved him when I was a child and I love him still now.

G – Glad you gave this book a chance: there have been many, but a good example would be Dune: House Atreides, and all the rest of the books written by Frank Herbert’s son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson and set in the Dune Universe. People were sneering about that first one, but I gave it a chance and have since read all their Dune books.

H – Hidden Gem: Dorothy Nimmo’s The Wigbox is a little-known gem. Click on the image for more information here on this site:

I – Important moment in your reading life: Coming across Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael quite by chance (I think it was One Corpse Too Many) triggered my lifelong love of the Medieval Mystery.

J – Juvenile favourite. Mine is probably Kim (see “F” above) but there are many others I love, from Hans Anderson’s The Snow Queen and Kingsley’s The Water Babies to the Harry Potter series and the His Dark Materials trilogy.

K – Kind of book you won’t read: books by illiterate “authors”, either unedited or “edited” by illiterate “editors”.

L – Longest book you’ve read: A Glastonbury Romance by John Cooper Powys. I have read all 1, 120 pages twice but still haven’t got round to writing a proper review!

M – Major book hangover because of: Lin Anderson’s Easy Kill. Read my review of it here and you will see why it moved and upset me.

N – Number of bookshelves you own: Six bookcases, and books everywhere. (But my Kindle is definitely easing the pressure!)

O – One book you’ve read multiple times: The Bhagavad Gita.

P – Preferred place to read: The beach in summer or when I’m travelling. Otherwise anywhere warm and cosy.

Q – Quotes that inspire you: Here are a few I like

ALICE BORCHARDT

I have often thought if one could impart the doings of mankind to a rose, the only thing it would understand would be the sweet drawn-out lovemaking of a drowsy afternoon. (The Silver Wolf)

ALDOUS HUXLEY

Chastity – the most unnatural of all the sexual perversions. (Eyeless in Gaza)

EMILY DICKINSON

A face devoid of love or grace,
A hateful, hard, successful face …

LAURENCE DURRELL

I find art easy. I find life difficult.

WILLIAM GOLDING

We did everything adults would do. What went wrong? (Lord of the Flies)

R – Reading regrets: My TBR list grows longer and longer while the reading time left to me in this life grows shorter by the day.

S – A series you’ve started and need to finish: Shakespeare’s plays! There are still several I have neither read nor seen.

T – Three of your all-time favourite books:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U – Unapologetic fangirl:

The James Bond novels – and the early, Sean Connery, films.

V – A Villain permanently etched on your brain:

Charles Dickins’ Fagin – in the book and as portrayed by Ron Moody:

W – Worst book habit: Writing notes and comments in books.

X – X marks the spot: pick the 27th book from the left on the top left shelf:

Balthazar – the second volume in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, another series I love and have read right through three times – and plan to read again!

 

Y – Your latest purchase: I take this to mean of a physical book, so Yeats’s Ghosts, the Secret Life of W. B. Yeats, by Brenda Maddox (a hardcover, secondhand, but like new). I will let you all know what I make of it!

Z – zzzz-snatcher: The Cold Heart trilogy by Lynda la Plante – three books (Cold HeartCold BloodCold Shoulder), three nights up all night!





THE MEDIEVALIST by Anne-Marie Lacey

27 12 2017

I have been a committed Richard III supporter ever since I read, many years ago, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. (Truth is the daughter of time.) For those of you who haven’t come across that classic of the murder mystery genre, Tey’s Inspector Grant is confined to bed for a long period after being wounded and he passes his time by attempting to solve a very cold crime – the murder of the princes in the Tower. To his surprise, he realises he has no choice but to acquit King Richard of the murders.

The Medievalist is, in a sense, a similar investigation of the same crime, but it is also a love story, and has that in common with two more wonderful novels featuring Richard III, namely We Speak No Treason and The Court of the Midnight King. In both of these stories the heroine is in love with Richard, and in the second there is also an element of time travel (click on the titles to see my full reviews on this site of these two excellent books). In The Medievalist, however, time travel underlies the whole story.

Jayne Lyons is an American student working on her PhD in history who, for no particular reason (other than a family legend that they are descended from King Richard) is convinced that Shakespeare got the whole thing wrong and Richard was neither a villain nor a hunchback. At the newly opened site of Richard’s grave in a car park in Leicester she finds a silver boar pendant, and when she holds it is transported back to the 15th century and the camp of Richard and his army, where – naturally. given the way she is dressed – she is taken for a camp-following whore and accused of stealing the silver boar.

Her adventures during the coming months, leading up to the Battle of Bosworth, make the book an all-night read, and the author’s version of what really happened to the two little princes is at least as likely as any other theory I have come across.

Well researched (by an obviously devoted student of the period and the person) and well written. Highly recommended.





FREE Today (a reblog)

27 12 2017

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8 12 2017