Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Pleasures of Men

Have just finished reading "The Pleasures of Men" by Kate Williams.

Set in the 1840s during the reign of Queen Victoria, a young girl with a troubled past comes to live with her uncle in London at a time when a "Ripper" style killer is striking fear in the hearts of men and women alike.

Catherine's life is certainly troubled and the author Kate Williams tempts us with glimpses into Catherine's past as she, Catherine, narrates the present.  Interspersed are the stories of a number of other women whose lives have touched Catherine's own - and whose fate rests in the hands of the mysterious stalker.

Kate brings to life the often tragic conditions of Victorian London, and allows us a glimpse into the lives of some of this city's inhabitants - from serving folk to those of the upper echelons.  This was no pleasurable palace for a young woman, or young girl - life was cheap and hard, and often expendable.

It is a rather curious read - one step forward, two steps back - but we are gradually reaching the point of no return.  What secrets does Catherine's uncle possess - and how will these secrets affect Catherine.  Must read on to the point when all is revealed - and like the threads of a young ladies' corset, all loose ends are tied together when the fate of Catherine becomes known.

It may not be to everyone's taste - the mix of different narratives - and the "flashbacks" - but it is necessary in order to gain a better insight into the main characters and their motives.  Persevere.

I must confess to looking forward to reading more of Kate's work.

About Kate Williams:
"Kate studied her BA at Somerville College, Oxford where she was a College Scholar and received the Violet Vaughan Morgan University Scholarship. She then took her MA at Queen Mary, University of London and her DPhil at Oxford, where she received a graduate prize. She also took an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. She now teaches at Royal Holloway."

See Kate's full profile at Goodreads.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: Treason In Tudor Times

Author James Forrester has presented us with  an unlikely hero in the guise of the elderly Herald, Sir William Harley, known throughout to all as Clarenceux. The setting is Tudor England at the height of the "succession" question where Catholics were putting forth one Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, as the successor to both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The whole country is on tenter-hooks as treason and traitors are discovered and removed from all levels of Tudor society.

In this first instalment, Willam or Clarenceux, finds himself in possession of a "chronicle" written by an old friend, yet delivered in the dead of night.  Not only is he now the custodian of this rather unique book, but also of the secret entrusted to him by its author, Henry Machyn.  And so we are taken on a quest to discover and decypher the secret before the authorities (in the form of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster) take hold of William and "persuade" him to reveal all to them.

The action is non-stop as William goes in search of those known as the Knights of the Round Table - and hopefully discover the secret that could see his own life hang in the balance.

Sacred Treason is but the first instalment - two more adventures follow in The Roots of Betrayal and The Final Sacrament.

Author James Forrester is a historian by profession, publishing medieval and early modern non-fiction under his first and last names, Ian Mortimer (his full name being Ian James Forrester Mortimer).

Review: Crispin Guest - Medieval Mike Hammer

Jeri Westerson has given readers a new anti-hero in the person of Crispin Guest.  Our hero has all the faults and foibles of a 1940s gumshoe, though the setting is 14th Century London rather than San Francisco or New York.

So, who is Crispin Guest?  He is a former knight, now detective, living and working on the mean streets of medieval London.  In this latest edition in the chronicles of Crispin, "Blood Lance", our hero and his trusty side-kick Jack Tucker, are on a quest to find the legendary Spear of Longinus.

From Jeri's website:
"The series begins with VEIL OF LIES where Crispin is hired by a jealous husband and falls into murder and international intrigue. The second is SERPENT IN THE THORNS, a medieval thriller wherein Crispin must stop an assassin before he kills the king of England, and the third is THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, where a sinister killer stalks the streets and alleys of London. The latest, TROUBLED BONES, is a retelling of the Canterbury Tales…with murder."

Readers of this new genre "medieval noir" will have no trouble adopting Crispin as their own and gladly fall in behind as he traverses the seemy side of London in the quest for truth and justice.  If you haven't already, one humbly suggests you don't fall too far behind - who knows what dangers lurk in the shadows.

As for "Blood Lance", I loved it - my only regret is not having read the previous four instalments prior to this chapter in the adventures of Jeri's hero, Crispen.  I would love to see these books turned into a series along the lines of Cadfael.