Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Pearl by Douglas Smith

"The Pearl" by Douglas SmithThe unforgettable story of the serf who became one of Russia’s greatest opera singers and her noble master, a man who defied all tradition to marry her.

Filled with a remarkable cast of characters and set against the backdrop of imperial Russia, this tale of forbidden romance could be the stuff of a great historical novel. But in fact The Pearl tells a true tale, reconstructed in part from archival documents that have lain untouched for centuries. Douglas Smith presents the most complete and accurate account ever written of the illicit love between Count Nicholas Sheremetev (1751-1809), Russia’s richest aristocrat, and Praskovia Kovalyova (1768-1803), his serf and the greatest opera diva of her time.

Blessed with a beautiful voice, Praskovia began her training in Nicholas’s operatic company as a young girl. Like all the members of Nicholas’s troupe, Praskovia was one of his own serfs. But unlike the others, she utterly captured her master’s heart. 

The book reconstructs Praskovia’s stage career as “The Pearl” and the heartbreaking details of her romance with Nicholas—years of torment before their secret marriage, the outrage of the aristocracy when news of the marriage emerged, Praskovia’s death only days after delivering a son, and the unyielding despair that followed Nicholas to the end of his life. 

Written with grace and style, The Pearl sheds light on the world of the Russian aristocracy, music history, and Russian attitudes toward serfdom. But above all, the book tells a haunting story of love against all odds. 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Lincolnshire Police officer writes first book in Stamford after becoming hooked on fantasy novels while recovering from stroke

A Lincolnshire Police officer who started reading fantasy novels while recovering from a stroke has now written his own.

Blue Swords by James Horton (39944598)James Horton, 36, was working for the Metropolitan Police in London when he began losing feeling down his left side after finishing a late shift nine years ago.

The father-of-three ended up in hospital on a critical stroke ward but luckily went on to recover.

He now only rarely experiences left-side tingling and slurred speech when he’s exhausted, although the fear of having another stroke has never left him.
While recuperating, he started listening to audiobooks of Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin as well as The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell.

Ideas for his own novel began forming in his head and around three years ago, while living and working in Stamford, he began putting pen to paper.

The outcome is Blue Swords, the first book in a series called ‘The Crimes and Crests Saga’, and it is already proving a hit.

read more here @ Rutland & Stamford Mercury

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Obituary: Professor Mark Ormrod

Professor Mark Ormrod passed away on 2 August 2020, in St Leonard’s Hospice, after a long illness which had caused him to retire early from the University in 2017 but did not impede his research and publication.

Mark was a leading historian of the later Middle Ages in Britain. He completed his doctorate in 1984 at the University of Oxford and then held a number of positions at the Universities of Sheffield, Evansville (British Campus), Queens University Belfast and Cambridge. In 1990 he moved to a lectureship at the University of York and was promoted to Professor in 1995. 

Mark was Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies from 1998 to 2001 and 2002 to 2003, and Head of the Department of History in 2001 and from 2003 to 2007. He also struck up a very close working relationship with the Borthwick Institute for Archives. He was a natural choice as the first Dean of the newly created Faculty of Arts and Humanities at York in 2009, a position that he held until his retirement in 2017.

read more here @ The University of York

Review: Dark Archives by Megan Rosenbloom

Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human SkinSynopsis: On bookshelves around the world, surrounded by ordinary books bound in paper and leather, rest other volumes of a distinctly strange and grisly sort: those bound in human skin. Would you know one if you held it in your hand?

In Dark Archives, Megan Rosenbloom seeks out the historic and scientific truths behind anthropodermic bibliopegy—the practice of binding books in this most intimate covering. Dozens of such books live on in the world’s most famous libraries and museums. Dark Archives exhumes their origins and brings to life the doctors, murderers, innocents, and indigents whose lives are sewn together in this disquieting collection. Along the way, Rosenbloom tells the story of how her team of scientists, curators, and librarians test rumored anthropodermic books, untangling the myths around their creation and reckoning with the ethics of their custodianship.

A librarian and journalist, Rosenbloom is a member of The Order of the Good Death and a cofounder of their Death Salon, a community that encourages conversations, scholarship, and art about mortality and mourning. In Dark Archives—captivating and macabre in all the right ways—she has crafted a narrative that is equal parts detective work, academic intrigue, history, and medical curiosity: a book as rare and thrilling as its subject.

For those with a macabre interest in death and dissection, this will provide you with a suitable overview. For those, like myself, who were wanting a bit more, then you will go away slightly less fulfilled.

My interest in anthropodermic bibliopegy dates, back to 2011, I was looking into a series of sensational murder cases dating back to the 1800s and what was the ultimate fate of those arrested. My interest was so sparked that I was compelled to write a blog post on it entitled Cadaver Books which touched on a number of books created from those executed. 

My little blog post was by no means in in-depth study which led me to request a copy of Dark Archives as a means to further enhance my knowledge on those books not created from criminals executed where " ... a dead person's skin had become a byproduct of the dissection process ... ' - dissection being a part of the sentence and a form of public humiliation (a fate intended to deter criminal activity). 

To be honest, I personally, was left a little flat. Whilst I appreciated that the author traveled throughout the USA to the libraries and universities that held these treasures, I was looking for a more broader study. The majority of tomes covered are American based, with some case studies are from the UK (ie: Burke & Hare, Red Barn Mystery) and France. 

" ... each old book is like a mystery quietly awaiting its detective ... "

I also appreciated the author's intent on seeking out those said to be cadaver books and having them tested, which often put paid to their origins when results came back in the negative. 

bookinskinAs I mentioned, those with a passing interest will find this a fascinating book which often looks at the mythology behind the antecedents of each tome; age-old myths surrounding the production of such tomes during both the French Revolution and Nazi Germany are debunked; and the science and methodology behind the production is discussed. Unfortunately I found more than one chapter waffling on before finally getting to the point in the last few paragraphs which resulted in my interest waning.

The author finishes on the matter of skin art and choice wherein today's generation with their beautifully crafted tattoos are looking at a means of preserving these post mortem, and also the current regulation surrounding the possession and display of human remains, and usage of donation to medical science. At the end there is a list of where 17 confirmed books are located.

This is a short book - barely 180 pages, with the rest made up of extensive notes. An entry level read into the subject of anthropodermic bibliopegy.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Review: The Career Killer by Ali Gunn

The Career Killer (DCI Mabey #1)Synopsis: When a serial killer poses a woman wearing a wedding dress in one of London’s most beautiful gardens without being seen, all eyes fall on newly-promoted DCI Elsie Mabey’s team of misfits as they investigate their first case together.  Nobody else wants the case and nobody wants the team she’s forced to work with. Her subordinates are the opposite of the Met’s finest; they’re the “not quite fired” of London policing.  Can this ragtag band pull together to catch a killer or will their failure be a self-fulfilling prophecy?

When I first read the synopsis with the line "they’re the “not quite fired” of London policing", I thought, this sounds a bit like the TV series "Old Tricks" - which I love - so thought I would give it a go.

What I found was a story line featuring a a newly promoted DCI Elise Mabey and her team of three: the experienced DS Patricia Knox, the naive DS Georgia Matthews, and the newly transferred DI Sebastian Stryker - not quite "Old Tricks" but possibly those no others wanted on their teams (for whatever reasons).

So the each of the characters - lets start with DCI Elise Mabey. Newly promoted to DCI she is keen to step out of the shadows of her more famous policeman father and make a name for herself on her own terms - " ... she needed this case ... she needed the chance to prove, once and for all, that she earned her command ... ". Added to this is the added pressure of suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) - leaving her tired, irritable and not in the mood to suffer fools.

Elise is joined by the newly transferred DI Sebastian Stryker - in Yorkshire he was a big fish in a small pond, now in London, he finds that he really is a small fish and must prove himself deserving of his place. We often, however, find him at odds with his boss, much to her chargrin.

Our two Detective Sergeants could not be any more different - DS Patricia Knox is - quite frankly - ob-knox-ious! A veteran officer who was up for the position Elise secured, Knox makes no bones about her feelings - though a past indiscretion was the cause of her downfall. She is jealous, disruptive, and working to her own agenda. Then lastly we have DS Georgia Matthews - the youngest, most inexperienced, and easily led of the team. Knox has taken her under her wing - and begins to lead her astray.

Others who feature include the Crime Scene Manager, Annie Burke; Chief Pathologist, Valerie Spilsbury (named after legendary Sir Bernard Spilsbury, eminent British Pathologist I wonder); and DCI Fairbanks - Mabey's co-worker, rival, and the epitome of the lazy cop.

DCI Mabey soon finds herself in charge of a serial killer case and picks up an additional caseload from Fairbanks. Mabey laments that " ... she needed to pull this useless team of hers together to get justice ... " - but will this motley crew be able to solve this case before imploding.

City of London Police logoI found the narrative intriguing and it held my attention. The procedural aspects were detailed as we move with the team as they discover and investigate, experiencing the highs and lows of the investigation. We also get a bit of the sense of the behind the scenes politiking within the police force, especially between Mabey and Fairbanks.

I did feel that a couple of aspects contained within the narrative to be rather questionable - particularly Knox going off to participate in another case - would this have happened in real life - I personally could not say, but as a reader I found it a little unbelievable. There were times when I found myself questioning the main characters and their actions as well - they were not only disfunctional but disobendient, doing as they pleased often ignoring Mabey's directives, which shows weakness on her part, leaving the reader to question whether she really is deserving of her promotion. At least the characters weren't portrayed as "peter perfects" but were flawed, human.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and I would be interested in reading more from this author and from this series. 

Ernest Hemingway's published works littered with errors, study claims

Ernest Hemingway - Wikipedia
Ernest Hemingway’s published writings are riddled with hundreds of errors and little has been done to correct them, according to a forthcoming study of the legendary writer’s texts.

Robert W Trogdon, a leading scholar of 20th-century American literature, told the Guardian that Hemingway’s novels and short stories were crying out for editions that are “as accurate to what he wrote as possible” because the number of mistakes “ranges in the hundreds”. Although many are slight, he said, they were nevertheless mistakes, made primarily by editors and typesetters.

Trogdon argues that, with the exceptions of Under Kilimanjaro and A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, published in 2005 and 2009 respectively, no Hemingway book has been edited to preserve what he actually intended, unlike the writings of his contemporaries F Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, which have been re-published in corrected versions.

read more here @ The Guardian

Review: One Inner Voice by Kay Wyont

One Inner Voice (Alamo City Mystery Book 1)Synopsis: Sometimes, the High and Mighty need to be taken down a peg or two. Everyone should have a purpose, and this is mine: to make a difference. One death at a time.

San Antonio Police Detectives Randy Monroe and Danny Beckman know two things: a serial killer is on the loose, and they don’t have enough clues to catch him. Surely the fact that the victims are murdered elsewhere and the bodies moved and dumped at churches means something, but what? With every new incident, Randy and Danny become more obsessed with unraveling the facts. But the closer they get to the truth, the more it looks like it might take a miracle to bring the killer to justice. 

A short yet compelling read as we follow two detectives trying to link and solve a series of mysterious deaths and unmask a serial killer with a religious bent . The investigation is labourious as all avenues are explored by the detectives, yet we must read on to the conclusion where we discover ......... really, plot spoiler? Not this reviewer.

I particularly liked how the author interspersed the main narrative with that of the first person narrative of the serial killer, who drops a subtle hint every now and again, and gives us a sneak peak into their possible motivation and struggles as they carry out their "mission".

This was my first book from this author and I am looking forward to more in this series. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Review: A Talent To Deceive by William Morris

A Talent to Deceive by William Norris
Synopsis: For almost 90 years, the Lindbergh Kidnapping has been a major topic of controversy and fascination in history. After a six-week trial, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was named the ultimate culprit of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's infant son. Hauptmann pleaded that he was not guilty even as he took his last breath execution day. Since the trial, there have been many theories concluding that Hauptmann was innocent. 

A Talent to Deceive is the book that solves a mystery through investigative journalism. William Norris dives into evidence ignored by previous investigators in search of the truth. Who really committed the crime? What really happened the night of March 1, 1932? What was the motive to kidnap and murder the Lindbergh baby?

The kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh infant was the "case of the century" - it still resonates event today - and resulted in a man being sentenced to death in the electric chair. In short, five years after Charles A. Lindbergh made headlines around the world by becoming the first aviator to make a nonstop flight across the Atlantic, he was the subject of a nightmarish new story: On the evening of March 1st, 1932, his 20-month old son, Charlie, was stolen from his crib. 72 days later, a badly-decomposed body authorities identified as Charlie’s was discovered in the woods less than four miles away. But was Richard Hauptmann guilty of such a heinous crime or was there much more - much that went unsaid for the sake of reputation. In "A Talent To Deceive: The Search For The Real Killer of the Lindbergh Baby" author William Norris - reporter and political correspondent - posits just that.

And Norris is not alone in this. Though not discusses here, Lloyd C. Gardner, professor of history emeritus at Rutgers University, in his book "The Case that Never Dies: The Lindbergh Kidnapping", claims that not only was Lindbergh himself somehow involved with little Charlie’s abduction, but also believes the child’s death could have resulted from an accident during the kidnapping.

Back to Norris' book - we start with a recap of known and "accepted facts" surrounding the case and are introduced to those who will feature in more depth throughout Norris' investigation. And even now at this early juncture, Norris hints at a cover-up by Lindbergh for a member of the Morrow family (his wife Anne's family). We discover that Lindbergh himself - from the very start - is obstructive and deceptive, and intent on controlling or steering the investigation - and as America's golden boy, he is allowed to do so.

Wanted poster circulated after the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh, Jr., March 1932.Then Norris takes us on the journey of his interest and investigation in the case.  It is not a smooth journey - there are many road blocks with access to still existing documents being refused and witnesses disappearing; the discovery that in the original inquiry leads had not been followed up, forensics were lacking, and pertinent witnesses  were not questioned.

"... I was becoming perhaps a little paranoid in my suspicions of a coverup, but it seemed clear that something odd was going on ..."

Norris follows a number of lines of inquiry either overlooked or purposely ignored - and attention focuses on the Lindbergh and Morrow families as well as the character of Dr John F Condon, who not only insinuated himself into the case but was the sole liaison with the kidnappers and was an intimate of the Morrow family.

Norris discovers an anonymous letter which referred to the kidnapping as " ... one of the greatest hoaxes ever pulled on the American public .." What could this mean - was the family complicit? Norris feels that this was the case, positing that there was the theory of an "unnamed illegitimate son" trying to get even with his father and claim monies owed via inheritance. 

Or was it a harmless (family) prank that went horribly wrong as the author questions that lack of fingerprints at the crime scene, the fake ladder, the state (and behaviour) of the family themselves, the swift identification of the child's corpse and the speed at which the child's remains were cremated. And then there is that almost Sherlockian question of why the dog didn't bark in the night.

Norris' modern-day investigation is interspersed with the historical case as pertinent discoveries are made and examined. Even Lindbergh (his personal life and views) comes in for a good deal of scrutiny - especially his theories on eugenics and Social Darwinism, which provides a potential clue as to why the child may have been kidnapped in the first place - even Lloyd C. Gardner comments on this (see also: The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever by David M. Friedman). 

Bruno HauptmannNorris also pays due diligence to Bruno Hauptmann and provides some background into the man who made for the perfect patsy, and looks a little more closely at the evidence stacked against him - and that which was overlooked which may have called into question the nature of his guilt in the very beginning. 

As I originally mentioned, I never realised just how deceptive and obstructive Lindbergh and his in-laws the Morrows actually were throughout this drama. The whole train of events after the discovery of the missing child (including the investigation and trial) were almost (and horribly) farcical - and for Hauptmann - the alleged kidnapper and murderer - tragically so.

For those wanting to gain a different insight into this "crime of the century" and read about an alternate perpetrator, this is definitely for you. Norris provides enough background information for the reader that prior in-depth knowledge is not essential.

further reading:
Crime Museum - the Lindbergh Kidnapping
Minnesota Historical Society - Lindbergh Kidnapping

To Walk in the Dark by John Ellis

9780752460239During the bloody years of the First English Civil War, as the battles of Edgehill, Newbury and Naseby raged, another war was being fought. Its combatants fought with cunning and deceit, a hidden conflict that nevertheless would steer the course of history. The story of the spies and intelligence-gatherers of the Roundheads and Royalists is one that sheds new light on the birth of the Commonwealth. 

In 'To Walk in the Dark', intelligence specialist John Ellis presents the first comprehensive analysis of the First English Civil War intelligence services. He details the methods of the Roundhead spies who provided their army commanders with a constant flow of information about the movements of the King's armies, describes the earliest use of code-breaking and mail interception and shows how the Cavalier intelligence forces were overcome. He also reveals the intelligence personnel themselves: the shadowy spymasters, agents and femmes fatales. 

The descriptions of how intelligence information was used in the main Civil War battles are particularly fascinating and show - for the first time - how intelligence information played a decisive role in determining the outcome of the Civil War itself.