Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Review: The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos

The Mystery of Henri Pick
Synopsis: In the small town of Crozon in Brittany, a library houses manuscripts that were rejected for publication: the faded dreams of aspiring writers. Visiting while on holiday, young editor Delphine Despero is thrilled to discover a novel so powerful that she feels compelled to bring it back to Paris to publish it. The book is a sensation, prompting fevered interest in the identity of its author - apparently one Henri Pick, a now-deceased pizza chef from Crozon. Sceptics cry that the whole thing is a hoax: how could this man have written such a masterpiece? An obstinate journalist, Jean-Michel Rouche, heads to Brittany to investigate.

By turns farcical and moving, The Mystery of Henri Pick is a fast-paced comic mystery enriched by a deep love of books - and of the authors who write them. 



Thoroughly enjoyable novel about the mystery surrounding the author of a book found in  regional library housing an area for rejected manuscripts, which when published, becomes a sensation. It is a story of how this fame has affected not only those directly associated with the book, but also the town in which the book was discovered. It is also the story of a washed-up critic and his journey for a final piece of redemption by discovering the truth behind the facade.

Translated from the original French by Sam Taylor, this story flows across the pages, separated by neat little chapters and some highly amusing footnotes from the author. Well worth discovering and reading for your selves!

Review: The Borgia's Spy by Andrea Frediani

The Borgias' Spy: An unputdownable, gripping thriller
Synopsis: 1497. Pope Alexander VI Borgia is perfecting his plans for the control of Italy when a heinous crime deprives him of one of the people dearest to him. All of Rome is mobilised to discover the perpetrator but a strange series of coincidences means famous court painter Pinturicchio finds himself on the front line.

To shed light on a murder that has cut the papacy to the quick, Pinturicchio is assisted by the city's most established artists, from Michelangelo Buonarroti and Filippino Lippi to Piermatteo d'Amelia and Perugino. The Borgias have so many enemies that the list of suspects grows by the day, but a masked man may be the key witness to the crime – or even its perpetrator...

Andrea Frediani brings one of the most famous cold cases in history to life in this thrilling tale of intrigue and deceit set in Renaissance Rome.



I love both fiction and non-fiction books featuring the Borgias - so I was looking forward to this story set around the time of the murder of Giovanni (Juan) Borgia.

It was a fascinating take on the mysterious and unsolved murder of Giovanni - there will be no spoilers here. Creative use of the artists of the day to contribute to the narrative for the search of those responsible. This also provided the reader with a glimpse at the intrigue and corruption that was prevalent at the Papal Court (and not just under the Borgias).

The thing that irritated me the most was that my edition needed serious editing / formatting - you finish one sentence in one place only to start the next sentence somewhere else with an entirely different character - it was very annoying and required the need to re-read paragraphs to ensure you knew where you were in the storyline. My edition also had some passages highlighted.

If these formatting issues are dealt with, this will make for a very good read. There is also an authors's note at the end that will be of interest to readers.

Review: Sherlock Holmes & the Ripper of Whitechapel by M.K. Wiseman

Sherlock Holmes & the Ripper of Whitechapel
Synopsis: I am afraid that I, Sherlock Holmes, must act as my own chronicler in this singular case, that of the Whitechapel murders of 1888. For the way in which the affair was dropped upon my doorstep left me with little choice as to the contrary. Not twelve months prior, the siren’s call of quiet domesticity and married life had robbed me of Watson’s assistance as both partner and recorder of my cases. Thus, when detective inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard required a lead—any lead—I found myself forced to pursue Jack the Ripper alone and without the aid of my faithful friend. 

And all for the most damnedable of reasons: early on in my investigations, Dr. John H. Watson, formerly of 221b Baker Street, emerged as my prime suspect.



This is another very Conan Doyle-like story of Holmes - in this instance, we have the added mystery of the notorious Whitechapel murders of Jack the Ripper.

Wiseman plots and paces his story in a manner that you might be forgiven for thinking this was a lost Conan Doyle manuscript. His take on Holmes is uncannily like the original manuscripts.

However, in this instance, the story is narrated by Holmes whilst Watson becomes one of the secondary characters in this outing. Holmes notes that this is not his usual type of case and is more or less "lured into" the case by not only Inspector Lestrade but Commissioner Warren. The story follows the Ripper murders fairly closely with Homes concluding that there was a "... compendium of errors which had plagued the case ..." which (no spoiler) remains an enigmatic mystery still today.

Definitely one for fans of Holmes and Watson - hope there are more tales on the horizon! 

Review: The Wolves of Venice by Alex Connor

The Wolves of Venice
Synopsis: Venice, 16th century. The staggering wealth of Venice contrasts the brutal lives of those in the ghetto. Opportunistic merchants arrive to make their fortune. Deception, malice and perversion thrive, leading to the emergence of a dark society: The Wolves of Venice.

Drawn into the Wolves' plots are the innocents – including Marco Gianetti, assistant to Tintoretto; Ira Tabat, a Jewish merchant; Giorgio Gabal, an artist's apprentice; and Giovanni Spoletto, the doomed castrato – all manipulated by the likes of Pietro Aretino, the courtesan Tita Boldini and the spy Adamo Baptista.

The lives of these characters criss-cross one another. Their destinies intermingle in a Venice corrupted by spies lingering in the shadows, working for paymasters that change allegiance with the wind. As the betrayals, murders and tragedies continue, will anyone be able to bring the Wolves of Venice to justice?



Unfortunately, whilst I did eventually finish this and I have a number of Alex Connor's other books, I was not a fan of this particular book.

The story / plot takes much too long to get going, and the characters that walk across our pages too numerous that one wonders where they fit in - if at all. I found no empathy at all with any of the characters and the action taking place ignited no spark within me and I was left feeling unfulfilled. Upon reaching the end, finally, only to discover that this was not a stand alone book but one in a series.

I will not be pursuing any more in the series.

Review: Sherlock Holmes & the Beast of the Stapletons by James Lovegrove

Sherlock Holmes and The Beast of the Stapletons
Synopsis: 1894. The monstrous Hound of the Baskervilles has been dead for five years, along with its no less monstrous owner, the naturalist Jack Stapleton. Sir Henry Baskerville is living contentedly at Baskerville Hall with his new wife Audrey and their three-year-old son Harry.

Until, that is, Audrey’s lifeless body is found on the moors, drained of blood. It would appear some fiendish creature is once more at large on Dartmoor and has, like its predecessor, targeted the unfortunate Baskerville family.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are summoned to Sir Henry’s aid, and our heroes must face a marauding beast that is the very stuff of nightmares. It seems that Stapleton may not have perished in the Great Grimpen Mire after all, as Holmes believed, and is hell-bent on revenge…



This very Conan Doyle-like story of Holmes follows on from his return after Holmes' supposed death at Reichenbach Falls (The Final Problem) and five years after the events of "The Hound of the Baskervilles".

Lovegrove plots and paces his story in a manner that you might be forgiven for thinking this was a lost Conan Doyle manuscript. His take on Holmes and Watson is uncannily like the originals - and old characters from "The Hound" resurface.

The story is narrated by Watson of course - though Holmes himself does recount events which he classifies as "... a web of murder and deceit ...riddled with misgiving ..." when he sallied forth to Dartmoor in the company of one Corporal Grier to discover just what new beast was terrorising the Baskervilles. Just when you think all is solved, we the reader find ourselves only halfway there.

Definitely one for fans of Holmes and Watson - hope there are more tales on the horizon!



Review: Winston's Spy by Robert Webber

Winston’s Spy: Carlton Chronicles 1
Synopsis: 1939. The storm clouds of war are gathering over Europe and the conundrum faced is whether the Soviet Union will reach a peace concord with Nazi Germany. How can Britain plan for war with Germany without knowing Stalin’s intentions?

The Baltic states hold the key and in particular Russia’s old Grand Duchy, Finland. One man can make a difference and Alex Carlton is recruited by MI2 (the division of Military Intelligence that deals with Russia and Scandinavia) to go undercover in Finland to gain insight into Finnish intentions; but will Alex’s past be a help or hindrance?

As he progresses through training and prepares for his mission, Alex’s life becomes complicated by love and intrigue that nearly derails his assignment… and that would upset Winston Churchill himself! 




This is the story of Aleksander Nikolayevich Karlov whose family fled Russia in the face of the Bolsheviks and who grew up in Finland and Sweden before finally coming to Britain in the 1930s. Alex, on the eve of World War II, finds himself approached to do some secretive work on behalf of the British Government - his ancestry will come in very handy indeed.

This easy to read first chapter (ie: book) deals with all the preliminary work needed to get Alex on his way, whist at the same time navigating a new romance, finishing off his required training, and adjusting to the potential declaration of war whereupon he could be called up at a moments' notice..

If you were expecting things to kick off straight away you will be a little disappointed - there were times when I found myself wondering if Alex was ever going to start his mission. However, I did persevere and am looking forward to the next installment. 

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