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Death in Delft by Graham Brack – a #17thCentury murder mystery

This is the first Master Mercurius novel I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. Set in the immaculately detailed setting of 17th Century Delft, Master Mercurius is a character it is easy to warm to.  An undercover priest as well as a protestant cleric, he is keen to do the right thing in the spirit rather than the letter of the law, and has a dry sense of humour that is a good foil for the beastly business of solving murders.

In this case we have a dead girl and some other missing girls we fear for, and it’s a race against time for Mercurius to discover and flush out the kidnapper, before the dastardly murderer kills another.

One of the joys of this book is all the supporting characters we meet along the way. We get an intimate view of Vermeer described as having: an intensity of gaze I found unsettling, as if he really saw all there was to see, open or concealed.

We also get a view of scientists of the time such as the ‘polite’ Van Leeuwenhoek who is just experimenting with lenses to view what lives in our saliva – to Mercurius’s amazement. Of course there are plenty of clues for him to follow and a satisfactory wrap-up to the plot.

A well-researched, tightly-plotted treat. I highly recommend, and will be reading another soon.

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My cold weather reading: ‘After the Fire’ and ‘Those Who Know’

Pilk 51p9eUIXJ9LHere in the North West, we’ve had a sudden change of the weather from tropical to arctic, meaning my lockdown walks have been replaced by staying inside with a good book. Now my most recent novel is done, I’ve been able to let go of research reading, and read for my own pleasure.

My latest novel, Entertaining Mr Pepys, was set in the world of the 17th Century theatre, and whilst writing it I would never have read this book, ‘After the Fire’ , because it is set in a similar time and place, and I’d fear some of John Pilkington’s  world seeping into mine. But now my final Pepys book is out and done with, I can indulge my passion for all things 17th Century.

After the Fire by John Pilkington is a murder mystery that introduces us the the character of actress Betsy Brand, and she is a great character to root for. Impetuous yet astute, she is not afraid to enter the worst rookeries of Restoration London, or to confront danger when it arises. She is ably assisted by her doctor friend, Tom Catlin, who refers to her as ‘Mistress Rummager,’ and though sceptical initially about her sleuthing abilities, is able to make sense of the deaths, and throw light on what kind of poison might be employed. Their relationship is interesting, as she is the dominant character despite her lower status.

The plot hinges on events that happened during the Great Fire of London (hence the title), and just when you think the evil perpetrator has had his come-uppance, we find he is in fact part of a bigger conspiracy. The book is extremely well-researched with a wealth of historical detail. What better place for a murder to happen then during Shakespeare’s most notorious and murder-strewn play, Macbeth? This is rollicking good fun, and will appeal to both fans of historical fiction and mystery lovers.

After the Fire

Blurb: Before Jack the Ripper, there was the Salamander.
London, 1670. The Great Fire is all burned out. Now the city lies in ruins and a series of chilling murders is playing out on the London stage.
Betsy Brand is an actress performing in Macbeth at the new Dorset Gardens Theatre. Every night she watches Joseph Rigg, the company’s most dazzling talent, in the throes of death as Banquo. Until one night he stops playing.

Betsy watches in horror as Rigg collapses mid-performance, poisoned. London’s theatre world turns upside down as more deaths follow. The authorities are baffled. But Betsy is determined to get to the bottom of it all, even if it means solving the case herself.

Betsy hears rumours that a shadowy figure called the Salamander has returned. He had haunted London during the Great Fire and now he is wreaking revenge on his enemies. But her foe is more cunning than Macbeth himself. And time is running out. Can she unmask the killer before she becomes his next victim?

Alis 41ACoLB0rzLThose Who Know by Alis Hawkins

The other novel I have enjoyed this week is the third of a series, and I loved the other two, so couldn’t wait for this one to come out. I’ve been following the adventures of Harry Probert-Lloyd and his able assistant John Davies, and they are always a delight. Partly it is the two men’s voices – the posh self-deprecating Harry versus the much more down-to-earth wit of John, who is always trying to save Harry from himself.

Harry is partially-sighted, so John acts as his eyes. At the same time Harry acts as a kind of benefactor to John, who has ambitions to be a solicitor, but was born much lower in the pecking order.

After a school teacher falls out of his loft there is suspicion of foul play, and Harry is left to contemplate the verdict. Of course there are many who might have wanted to do the deed, and it all takes some unravelling. A man is convicted, but Harry is not convinced they have the right man. Adding to the difficulty is the forthcoming election for Coroner, where Mr Minnever the local Liberal wants Harry to canvas more actively to retain his post, thus involving him in politics which he could well do without. Naturally it is critical Harry should win the vote for re-election, not least so that John can remain in post, but his need to try to gain votes is constantly crashing up against what he needs to do to see justice done. There is also the complication of two women, Miss Gwatkyn the local lady of the manor, and Lydia Howell, recently employed as secretary to Harry, both of whom refuse to remain in the subservient roles Harry expects, not to mention the local doctor who is keen on dissecting any corpse that might come his way, to the horror of Victorian polite society.

This was a great book, and one that lived up to the previous two and more. Complex and interesting, with a well-drawn sense of time and place, and characters you can really get to know. I heartily recommend.

Those Who Know

Blurb:

Harry Probert-Lloyd has inherited the estate of Glanteifi and appointed his assistant John as under-steward. But his true vocation, to be coroner, is under threat. Against his natural instincts, Harry must campaign if he is to be voted as coroner permanently by the local people and politicking is not his strength.
On the hustings, Harry and John are called to examine the body of Nicholas Rowland, a radical and pioneering schoolteacher whose death may not be the accident it first appeared. What was Rowland’s real relationship with his eccentric patron, Miss Gwatkyn? And why does Harry’s rival for the post of coroner deny knowing him? Harry’s determination to uncover the truth threatens to undermine both his campaign and his future.

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Recent Recommended Reads Private Lives by JG Harlond and Daughters Of India by Jill McGivering

cover193221-mediumWith lockdown in progress, and my new book just finished, I’ve made time for plenty of reading this month. Here are the first two reviews and I’ll be posting the rest of the reviews shortly.

Private Lives by J G Harlond

I read the first of these Bob Robbins mysteries set in WW2 and loved it, so couldn’t wait for more. This is the ultimate cosy read, full of humour, but also hiding some dark and dangerous depths. I think of it as Agatha Christie meets Dad’s Army, but the characters have plenty of depth. The mystery starts from the off, with Bob Robbins witnessing (from afar) what he thinks might be a shotgun murder. But when he searches the spot there is no body to be found, and the person he saw has simply disappeared. Bob is supposed to be on holiday, but of course he can’t help being curious, and is soon sucked into the investigation, forfeiting his longed-for summer break.

A body does eventually appear, but not the man they are looking for, adding to the mystery.

Bob Robbins  is aided in his investigations by raw recruit Laurie Oliver, who has a love of the ladies and of English Literature, and always has an apt quotation to hand. Fun is added by the setting which includes a chintzy seaside boarding house with a group of thespians preparing to entertain the holidaymakers. Nearly all of them have something to hide, and give Bob a run for his money. The vivacious  actress Jessamyn Flowers (who incidentally has several other names) who runs the lodging house is especially enjoyable. Anyone who does ‘Am Dram’ will recognise this world, and appreciate it. The background of wartime England is accurately and evocatively drawn, with preparations for ‘D Day’ going on all the time. Settle down with your cocoa for this ideal slice of entertaining escapism.

 

Daughters Of India by Jill McGivering

71wUcBYYImLI love to read anything set in India and was really impressed by the sense of place in this book. Right from the beginning, McGivering shows us the heat and colour of India then contrasts it with the chilly Yorkshire Dales, where Isabel must spend the holidays at boarding school and then away from her family and her beloved India. These early parts, seen through childhood eyes, add to the feeling of India as a place of golden memory. Later we are treated to the smells and sounds of Delhi, and then the Andaman Islands – a place I had never even heard of, in the Bay of Bengal. I feel now I have a picture of these places in my imagination.

The two main protagonists, Isabel, born into Colonial luxury of the British Raj, but always feeling an outsider, and Asha, a hindu, are both courageous women. From the cover, I thought this might be a light romantic read, but it is a hard-hitting exploration of attitudes during the final days of the Raj, when India looks for self-rule and the Raj looks to maintain control. The politics are well-researched and sensitively handled, the male characters real people not just ciphers. The book deftly explores the difference between what some call murderers and some call freedom fighters. If you want a book that will take you to a different time and place, that will surprise you, shock you and move you, then this is very highly recommended.

 

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The Outlaw’s Ransom – the romance of Robin Hood

 

Outlaw's Ransom

I’m thrilled to welcome Jennifer Ash to my website today to talk about her new novella, The Outlaw’s Ransom.

Here’s a description of the book:

When craftsman’s daughter Mathilda is kidnapped by the notorious Folville brothers, as punishment for her father’s debts, she fears for her life.  Although of noble birth, the Folvilles are infamous throughout the county for disregarding the law – and for using any means necessary to deliver their brand of ‘justice’.

Mathilda must prove her worth to the Folvilles in order to win her freedom. To do so she must go against her instincts and, disguised as the paramour of the enigmatic Robert de Folville, undertake a mission that will take her far from home and put her life in the hands of a dangerous brigand – and that’s just the start of things…

A thrilling tale of medieval mystery and romance – and with a nod to the tales of Robin Hood – The Outlaw’s Ransom is perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and Jean Plaidy.

Good to have you here, Jenny. What sort of books do you like reading? Could you share with us some historical novels you really enjoyed?

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, The Bishop Must Die by Michael Jecks, Kitty Peck and the Musical Hall Murders by Kate Griffin, A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss, The Thief Taker by Janet Gleeson

I’ve only read two on that list, so I’ve some catching up to do! Tell me a little about how you first got interested in the medieval period, and the birth of this novella.

I’ve been a lover of all things medieval since I clapped eyes on an episode of Robin of Sherwood back in the 1980’s. Since then, I’ve had a fascination with the era; especially the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries which led to do a PhD in Medieval Criminology and Ballad Literature.

Despite five years of hard and intense study, my interest in the medieval legends continued, and when the chance came to indulge my passion in my fictional work, I grabbed it.

The resulting novel was Romancing Robin Hood; a part modern, part medieval romance and crime story.

Not only does the lead character in Romancing Robin Hood, Dr Grace Harper share my love of all things connected with the man in green tights (well, probably red hose actually), she also shares my love of the television show, Robin of Sherwood.  In fact, Grace loves medieval outlaws so much that she writes her own medieval mystery based on the life of a young woman called Mathilda of Twyford and her entanglement with an outlaw family called the Folvilles.

Mathilda’s story can be read within Romancing Robin Hood alongside the modern romance.

When Romancing Robin Hood was published so many people got in touch to tell me they wanted to read more of the medieval part of the story, that I decided to re-release it as a story in its own right.

Given the title, The Outlaw’s Ransom, Mathilda’s story was expanded a fraction, and published in its own right in 2015.

I’m delighted to say that Mathilda’s story doesn’t end with The Outlaw’s Ransom. I have recently finished writing the novel, The Winter Outlaw, which continues Mathilda’s adventures with the notorious Folville family. (Out Autumn/Winter 2017)

I can see the appeal of men in tights (!) but what appeals to you about outlaws?

Whether historical or fictional, there has always been something fascinating about these forced into- or who chose to adopt- the outlaw lifestyle. During the thirteenth and fourteenth century in England, there were periods of great political upheaval. As a consequence, many noble families took crime as a profession, and with it ruled their locality. Those outside the law often had more respect from the community than the representatives of the law did.

In fourteenth century Leicestershire, the Folville family had a mafia style grip on the county. But were they the good guys or the bad guys? Obviously it isn’t as simple as all that, the study of the exploits of this family- and those like them- is simply fascinating.

When you were writing the book, did you have a favourite ‘research moment’ ?

I have a small confession – I didn’t do any research when I was actually writing The Outlaw’s Ransom. My research was pre-done many years ago, between 1993 and 1999, when I studied for the aforementioned PhD on the correlation between medieval crime and the ballad literature of the fourteenth century.

It was during that time that I came across the Folvilles. There is a fairly convincing argument that this was family that the balladeers of the age – possibly- based their Robin Hood stories on.

Quite a few of the readers of this blog are writers too, I wonder if you would share a little bit about your method for writing a book? 

Left to my own devices I’m a panster. I much prefer handing control of the story over to my characters so I can let them dictate what happens. However publishers prefer (understandably), to have a guide that can give them an outline of the story they’ve just agreed to commission. As a consequence I tend to plot the first half out properly, and then wing the second half our in a much rougher plot form. Luckily my editor knows me well enough to know that the latter half of the plan I’m giving him will very probably change drastically by the time the story is actually written.

My writing career started 12 years ago when I started to write erotica as Kay Jaybee. In 2013 I became a contemporary fiction and romance novelist, Jenny Kane, as well. Then last year I took on the pen name Jennifer Ash- medieval mystery writer.

I try and write one book per ‘me’, per year. Two of these will be novels and one will be a novella, and then each different ‘me’ takes it in turns as to who gets the shorter work.

This year, Kay gets the novella, and Jenny Kane and Jennifer Ash get the novels!

Thank you to Jenny for sharing her thoughts with us, and now I’m sure if you’ve got this far, you’ll want to buy the book. Tap or click to download. US    UK

The Winter Outlaw which follows on from this book will be published in 2017. You can find details of all Jennifer’s stories at www.jenniferash.co.uk

Jennifer also writes as best-selling contemporary romance author Jenny Kane with books such as Another Glass of Champagne, Christmas at the Castle, and Abi’s House. (Accent Press) Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat  and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015) Keep your eye on Jenny’s blog at www.jennykane.co.uk for more details.

Follow Jenny on Twitter @JennyKaneAuthor or on Facebook 

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Books to invest in for Christmas Reading – mulled wine optional.

murder affairExcellent murder mystery with larger than life characters and a tone in which you can tell the author is enjoying the telling of the tale. John Lovat, the bastard brother of one of Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers and always second fiddle to his snooty brother, is employed to solve the mystery of the death of a Portuguese nobleman, and to hush up any scandal that might affect the court.

The author has researched the times thoroughly, with detailed knowledge of London streets, the theatres, the waterways and the politics of the day including the taking of slaves and the ruthlessness of piracy on the high seas. There are plenty of false leads and a surprising denouement. All in all an excellent read.

 

 

 

 

51eMB7tPzVL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_The House of York is loosely based on events during the era of the Wars of the Roses. It includes part of the plot of the Princes in the Tower (albeit updated) and this adds extra interest for history buffs.

The events are told from several points of view, mostly unreliable (!) and this family saga is part thriller, part crime, part intrigue, with a good dollop of psychology thrown in. This makes it sound complex, and it is, but it is also a seamless and entertaining read. The voices are clearly delineated, and each character convincing. Like the best historical sagas, Terry Tyler’s books are about power. Who owns it, who wants it, and the lengths people will go to to get it. Jealousy, back-stabbing, manipulation are all a part of the game. The ending leaves enough intrigue for the reader to wait anxiously for the next instalment.

 

 

 

51dYTFSb0SL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_A Dangerous Mourning is the second book in the William Monk Series, set just after the Crimean war, and full of Victorian atmosphere – the foggy Thames, and the complexity of the Victorian legal system. Both these outside forces are mirrored by Monk’s mind – his amnesia and how he copes with it, alongside his determination to be better than Mr. Runcorn, his superior, who would be happy to get rid of him from the Force.

The plot revolves around the murder of Octavia Moidore, a wealthy aristocrat’s daughter, who has been stabbed to death in her bed. Of course in those days there was no fingerprinting, no forensics, and the police force is full of ineptitude. Some of the time Monk is outwitting the system itself, as well as the perpetrator of the crime. Gripping, atmospheric stuff, with a great courtroom drama ending.

 

 

 

51fq0hMAISL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Letters to the Lost is a double romance set during World War Two and today. The plot is built around an empty house in which Jess finds herself after she escapes her violent boyfriend, Dodge. The letters she discovers in the abandoned house describe a sweeping love story that went wrong. At the same time, the airman of the letters is trying to find his long lost sweetheart and hopes she is still alive. With the help of her friend Will, Jess begins to unravel the mystery behind Dan and Stella’s wartime story, and in doing so finds a love of her own. Our hopes for a happy ending propel the two narratives along, and anyone looking for an exceptionally well-written romance with true heart and poignancy will love this.