THE MEDIEVALIST by Anne-Marie Lacey (Review)

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.

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THE RAVEN by Jeremy Bishop (Review)

It is rare for a sequel or the second in a series to be as good as the original story, the one that first presented the reader with this new world, these new characters. It is even rarer for it to be better. But The Raven is definitely more exciting, more of a page-turner, than the very good The Sentinel.

Jane Harper has been trapped in Greenland since the close of the first adventure when, unsurprisingly, virtually no one believes her story of what happened to the crews of the whaler and the anti-whaling ship that both sank following a ramming incident and an explosion. Unsurprisingly because the story she tells is replete with thousand-year-old zombie Vikings, and – worse still in the opinion of the media who decide what people shall and shall not believe – zombie polar bears and narwhals and whales.

Now though, the only other survivors, the elderly Captain of the whaler and his son, return to the island where it all began, intent on saving the world from the (alien) parasite that causes this living death, and they give Jane little choice but to accompany them.

I don’t want to spoil the story. I will simply say that if you enjoyed The Sentinel, don’t miss The Raven. And if you haven’t read The Sentinel, then read it first: this book, The Raven, is not a stand-alone.

THE SUBTLE SERPENT by Peter Tremayne (Review)

A Celtic Mystery featuring Sister Fidelma – Ireland , AD 666

Sister Síomha turned slowly wondering what Brónach was staring at in such a horror-struck fashion.
What she saw made her raise a hand to her mouth as if to suppress a cry of fear.
Hanging by one ankle, which was secured to the rope on which the pail was usually suspended, was a naked female body. It was still glistening white from its immersion in the icy water of the deep well. The body was hanging head downwards so that the upper part of the torso, the head and shoulders, were beyond their view being hidden in the well-head.
[…]
Sister Síomha moved to the well-head and peered down, hands reaching forward to swing the body out of the well. Then, with a sharp cry which she could not stifle, she turned away, her face becoming a mask of shocked surprise.
Curious, Sister Brónach moved forward and peered into the well-head. In the semi-gloom of the well she saw that where the head of the body should have been was nothing. The body had been decapitated. What remained of the neck and shoulders were stained dark with blood.

In the Abbey of the Salmon of the Three Wells, the naked and mutilated corpse of a young woman is discovered in one of the wells. She had been whipped, her head had been hacked off – so there was no means of identifying her – and tied to her left arm was a stick of aspen wood on which Ogham characters had been carved. The Ogham read: “Bury her well. The Mórrigú has awakened!” In her other hand, by contrast, she still clasped a copper crucifix.

A great mystery, and Fidelma is sent to try to solve it. She travels by ship, for the abbey is on the coast, and as they are nearing their destination they sight a French merchant vessel heading erratically towards some submerged rocks. Ross, the captain of Fidelma’s ship, investigates. It turns out that the French ship has been abandoned. Apart from a few traces of blood, there is no sign of either crew or passengers, or of cargo.

Another mystery.

But then Fidelma finds a Missal she recognises. She had given it to her friend Brother Eadulf when she parted from him in Rome. How had it come to be here? Yet another mystery – and now Fidelma has a personal interest in solving it.

Those of us who have read later stories in the series will by now be completely hooked, for we already know that Eadulf is fated to become Fidelma’s “Watson”. Will it happen here, in this book, we wonder – our sympathies all with Eadulf, for Fidelma can be quite as clever, as arrogant and as sarcastic as Sherlock Holmes ever was.

As always with this series, then: highly recommended.

THE SENTINEL by Jeremy Bishop

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 “draugar”, 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.

ALL GOOD DEEDS by Stacy Green (Review)

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

THE TOWER’S ALCHEMIST by Alesha Escobar (Review)

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.

THE BOOK OF SHADOWS by C.L.Grace (Paul Doherty)

Canterbury, summer 1471

Luberon put the cup down. “In our lives, Kathryn,” he said, “everything is simple. I am Simon Luberon, clerk to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. I have my own little house, my daily routine, my friends.” He glanced archly at Thomasina. “And those whom I always think about. I attend Mass on Sundays, sometimes even during the working week. I pay my tithes and taxes. I do my best to follow the law of God and uphold the rule of the King’s writ.” He paused, breathing in noisily through his fleshy nostrils, his merry eyes now sombre. “That is the world I live in, as do you. But Tenebrae was a magus. His world was thronged by spells, curses, incantations, waxen effigies, blood sacrifices and blasphemous rituals.”

“So, why didn’t the Church arrest him?” Kathryn interrupted, slightly impatient at Luberon’s lugubrious tone.

“Ah, Tenebrae is no village warlock dealing in petty spells,” Luberon replied. “He really did believe in, and practise, the black arts. His customers were wealthy. More important, Tenebrae was a professional blackmailer. He acquired knowledge about the mighty of this land, which should best be left secret …”

The Book of Shadows is the 4th in a series of medieval mysteries featuring Kathryn Swinbroke, and written under a pen-name by Paul Doherty, author of the much better known Brother Athelstan and Hugh Corbett series.

It was this one which happened to come my way and I will review it here, but I see that the hardback (which I have in my hands) is hard to find and  buy and the Kindle edition is “not currently available for purchase” (and nor are any others in the series).

The story is set in Canterbury in 1471, when, as the author puts it in a ‘Historical Note’, “the bloody civil war between the Houses of York and Lancaster had ended with Edward of York’s victory at Tewkesbury. The Lancastrian king, Henry VI, was quietly murdered in the Tower. Edward IV, with his beautiful wife Elizabeth Woodville and their gang of henchmen now controlled the kingdom.”

Doherty is clearly not a Yorkist!

In the Prologue, we meet Tenebrae, “the great magus or warlock”, a practising satanist who in fact makes his money by means of blackmail. And in that kind of post-civil-war situation, when all those who had supported the other side went in fear of their lives, blackmail was obviously a very lucrative trade.

Then Tenebrae is murdered. And Kathryn Swinbroke, a local physician and apothecary, is asked to investigate, along with her close friend Colum Murtagh, a King’s Commissioner. (How close a friend I do not know. It is not made clear in this one book, but I am searching for others in the series to get the background story, the on-going soap opera which makes such series so appealing.)

It turns out that Tenebrae had a large book, the Book of Shadows of our title, a copy of the ancient grimoire of Honorius; and in that book was recorded in his own hand all the secret information he had gathered about many of the greatest in the land. Including Elizabeth Woodville, King Edward’s beautiful and ruthless queen.

Meanwhile, in a sub-plot, an old lady is accused of bringing about a rich burgher’s death by using witchcraft, and is to be burnt. Can Kathryn save her? I have to say that so far as I know – and so far as I can discover – they did not burn witches in England at this time, though they did in Scotland and France. In England, they were hanged, or drowned while being dipped on the cuckin/ducking stool.

For Doherty fans – I am one, as most of you will know by now – essential reading if you can get hold of a copy.