Saturday, March 31, 2018

What to make of Constance Markievicz? Three biographies reviewed

Sisters Against the Empire: Countess Constance Markievicz and Eva Gore-Booth, 1916-1917Sisters Against the Empire: Countess Constance Markievicz and Eva Gore-Booth, 1916-17 by Patrick Quigley. Rather than attempt a full study of both figures, who have been so extensively reappraised, Quigley focuses on the year that was the most intense phase of the sisters’ relationship (when Markievicz was imprisoned in Aylesbury).

Lindie Naughton’s Markievicz: A Most Outrageous Rebel is a poorly digested version of this scholarship (ie: the eight notable biographies of the Countess), with neither the historian’s commitment to detail nor the novelist’s sense of plot and character. She makes recourse to stereotypes that do a disservice to a popular readership that keeps pace with the latest in Irish history writing.

Anne Haverty’s biography, first published in 1988 as Constance Markievicz: An Independent Life is now reissued under the title Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary . Although the reissue includes an updated bibliography, little of this work has made incursions into the narrative, but that seems inconsequential; Haverty’s book remains a classic in Irish biography and a rollicking good read.

Recalling Africa’s harrowing tale of enslavement

From The Herald:

Slaves and Slavery by Duncan Clarke  in Kalk Bay image 1In his book, “Slaves and Slavery”, published in 1998, the British writer Duncan Clarke defines slavery as “the reduction of fellow human beings to the legal status of chattels, allowing them to be bought and sold as goods”.

“The African slave trade, surely one of the most tragic and disturbing episodes in the history of mankind,” Clarke writes, “had its origins in the intervention of forces from the civilisations that developed in the regions of the Mediterranean sea – today’s Europe and the Middle East – into the arena of the more fragmented civilisations of sub-Saharan Africa.

In modern times, the popular image of African slavery springs from the vision of a tormented male suffering under the lash of unceasing labour on some “New World” sugar plantation.

Yet the real face of servitude finds its focus in the forced migration of millions of girls and young women across the Sahara and the Horn of Africa in to the institutions of Islamic concubinage. – New African magazine.

Brian Boru didn’t save Ireland from the Vikings

From the Irish Times:

Dublin and the Viking WorldA gorgeous new book, Dublin and the Viking World, introduces readers to the period when Dublin became Ireland’s first fully functioning town. Written by Prof Clarke, a director of the Medieval Trust (the parent body of Dublinia, the Viking and medieval museum near Christchurch, Dublin) and formerly a historian at UCD, Sheila Dooley who was curator and educational officer in Dublinia, and Dr Ruth Johnson, city archaeologist for Dublin City Council, it will be published just after Easter weekend’s first Viking festival, hosted by Dublinia.

The big surprise for us is that Brian Boru didn’t actually save Ireland from the Vikings, and the prevailing wisdom about the Battle of Clontarf is based on propaganda.

Dublin and the Viking World is handsomely illustrated and accessible, drawing on a tremendous amount of research. Clarke makes the point that it represents “the best possible attempt anyone can make to demonstrate the nature of a major Viking settlement anywhere in Europe”.

York in 50 Buildings by Andrew Graham

From York Press:

A new book tells the story of York in 50 Buildings, Stephen Lewis reports.

For Andrew, a former City of York Council development control officer turned self-employed architectural historian and urban designer, that made the challenge of putting together a book called York In 50 Buildings both easier, and more difficult.

Easier, because with so much history, and with buildings from so many periods to choose from, he was never going to struggle to find 50 York buildings that were worth writing about.

Harder, because he actually found it a real struggle restricting his choice to just 50.

‘Francis I’ Review: A Royal Renaissance

Image result for francis 1 leonie friedaHarper Collins:

Catherine de Medici’s father-in-law, King Francis of France, was the perfect Renaissance knight, the movement’s exemplar and its Gallic interpreter. An aesthete, diplomat par excellence, and contemporary of Machiavelli, Francis was the founder of modern France, whose sheer force of will and personality molded his kingdom into the first European superpower. Arguably the man who introduced the Renaissance to France, Francis was also the prototype Frenchman—a national identity was modeled on his character. So great was his stamp, that few countries even now are quite so robustly patriotic as is France. Yet as Leonie Frieda reveals, Francis did not always live up to his ideal; a man of grand passions and vision, he was also a flawed husband, father, lover, and king.

With access to private archives that have never been used in a study of Francis I, Frieda explores the life of a man who was the most human of the monarchs of the period—and yet, remains the most elusive.

The French king sent agents to Italy to find paintings for the royal collection, now the core of the Louvre museum. Other foreign initiatives went less well. John Steele Gordon reviews “Francis I” by Leonie Frieda.

When Francis I was born in 1494, no one thought he would become king of France. He was, after all, only a third cousin of the reigning king, Charles V III, who was just 24 years old and in good health. But Charles’s four children all died in or near infancy, and the king himself suddenly died in 1498. The throne then went to Louis XII, a cousin of Charles’s. Louis, 35 when he came to the throne, tried valiantly to sire a son and heir, even marrying a third wife just three months before his own death despite his rapidly declining health. But he failed in his mission, and his two daughters were debarred from the throne by law. Thus in 1515 it came about that Francis, at the age of 20, became king. As Leonie Frieda shows us in “Francis I: The Maker of Modern France,” a superb and vivid biography, he made the most of it.

This is a roistering biography of a priapic king, which entertainingly fails to make the case for his greatness, says Gerard DeGroot.

Thoroughgoing biography of the French ruler who allied with Islam in an effort to resist his Habsburg neighbors. Though a figure of major importance, Francis has been forgotten against better known contemporaries such as England’s Henry VIII. Frieda’s work helps restore him to history.

Was François I the first Renaissance king of France — or the last medieval one?

Friday, March 30, 2018

Review: The Price You Pay by Aidan Truhen

The Price You Pay
" ... I guess everyone's the morally conflicted hero of their own narrative am I right? .."

Jack Price is a cocaine dealer, targetted by an international syndicate of killers - the Seven Demons - and Jack's out for revenge - that's "... the price you pay ...".

The story is sassy, descriptive, mouthy, fast paced, punchy. Jack Price is a thoroughly despicable character - self- involved, egotistical, sociopathic, infallable, sardonic; creative and enterprising. There are just too many good one-liners in this story, to many LOl moments (I literally had tears) that you just have to read this. 

Not everyone is going to appreciate Truhen eloquent use of language or his lack to traditional punctuation (I myself have lamented this of other writers) - yet it works here - and works really well.

" ... coffee is the judge of a person .." - I love coffee, Jack loves coffee - Truhen nails it!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Review: The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

The Woman in the Window
For me, this is a homage to Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and "The Lady Vanishes" - a disturbed woman witnesses something - and no one around her believes it.  This is what initially drew me to this title.

Whilst this is a slow moving story initially, the "flashbacks" are used sparingly to illustrate certain points in the backstory of the main character, Dr Anna Fox. We descend into Anna's private hell as she struggles to discern what is real and what is imagined. To add to the complexity, Anna is suffering from agoraphobia after undergoing a personal tragedy.

I enjoyed the references to many well known classic movies - many of which I myself have watched - Anna and I have something in common, which I guess is what drew me to her.

The writing is suspenseful, intricate, absorbing - this is a real page turner that will one day itself become one of those classic noir crime stories. If Hitchcock were alive, he'd be adapting this for the big screen.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Saxon's Bane by Geoffrey Gudgion

Saxon's Bane
Fergus Sheppard’s world changes forever the day his car crashes near the remote village of Allingley. Traumatised by his near-death experience, he returns to thank the villagers who rescued him, and stays to work at the local stables as he recovers from his injuries. He will discover a gentler pace of life, fall in love ¬ and be targeted for human sacrifice.

Clare Harvey’s life will never be the same either. The young archaeologist’s dream find ¬ the peat-preserved body of a Saxon warrior ¬ is giving her nightmares. She can tell that the warrior had been ritually murdered, and that the partial skeleton lying nearby is that of a young woman. And their tragic story is unfolding in her head every time she goes to sleep.

Fergus discovers that his crash is uncannily linked to the excavation, and that the smiling and beautiful countryside harbours some very dark secrets. As the pagan festival of Beltane approaches, and Clare’s investigation reveals the full horror of a Dark Age war crime, Fergus and Clare seem destined to share the Saxon couple’s bloody fate.

This is one of those stories when the reality of the main characters collide with something all-together unreal.

At the time Fergus is involved in a car accident outside of a small English village, archaeologist Clare is making a discovery of her lifetime. Fergus' return to the village is some sort of catharsis whilst visions of a past life of the Saxon warrior unearthed from the bog plague the dreams of Clare. As Beltane approaches, are Clare and Fergus doomed to relive the fate of the Dark Age couple?

The story immediately reminded me of "The Wicker Man" and "Children of the Corn". It is rich, evocative and descriptive, gripping and harrowing, as Gudgion weaves a tale shrouded in ancient folklore, superstition, dark fantasy and horror. The village of Allingley itself, with its diverse characters, conceals a deep, long hidden animosity - the menace of impending doom hovers in the air like a pall.

The story slowly builds, you are drawn deeper and deeper, until it reaches its apogee and the true horror is revealed.

Further Reading:
The Search for Anglo-Saxon Paganism by EG Stanley
Imagining the Anglo-Saxon Past by EG Stanley
Anglo-Saxon Paganism by David Wilson
Bog Bodies Uncovered by Miranda Aldhouse-Green
Bodies in the Bog and the Archaeological Imagination by Karin Sanders

Review: Rebels at the Bar by Jill Norgren

Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers
Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers 

Jill Norgren recounts the life stories of a small group of nineteenth century women who were among the first female attorneys in the United States. Beginning in the late 1860s, these determined rebels pursued the radical ambition of entering the then all-male profession of law. They were motivated by a love of learning. They believed in fair play and equal opportunity. They desired recognition as professionals and the ability to earn a good living. 

Through a biographical approach, Norgren presents the common struggles of eight women first to train and to qualify as attorneys, then to practice their hard-won professional privilege. Their story is one of nerve, frustration, and courage. This first generation practiced civil and criminal law, solo and in partnership. The women wrote extensively and lobbied on the major issues of the day, but the professional opportunities open to them had limits. They never had the opportunity to wear the black robes of a judge. They were refused entry into the lucrative practices of corporate and railroad law. Although male lawyers filled legislatures and the Foreign Service, presidents refused to appoint these early women lawyers to diplomatic offices and the public refused to elect them to legislatures.

The struggle of women to practice law in the US from the 1860s onwards told through the eyes of eight women. These trailblazers of the early days of the 1860s to 1880s, were from different walks of life (that was both white and Christian).

The only criticism is that the stories become slightly repetitive - it would possibly have made for a better single story with the eight women featured as examples.

Further reading:
First 100 Years: Women in Law Timeline
US Supreme Court: History of Oral Advocacy

Review: Sinners & the Sea by Rebecca Kanner

The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before. 

Noah was not alone. He had a wife. He had a family. We know the names of Noah's forebears (he himself was the son of Lamech, son of Methuselah) and his offspring (Shem, Ham, Japeth) - all are mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 5:28-32). What we don't know is the name of Noah's wife.

Many have speculated what her name may be - possibly Naameh, daughter of Lamech (son of Methushael) by Zillah; she was given the name of Emzrar in the Book of Jubilees (c. 2nd century BC); whilst the fourth century bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius, gave her the name of Barthenos.

Her story is one of faith, courage and endurance. She patiently remained supportive and faithful to Noah so that he could achieve his goals; and her endurance through the terrible times of pre-and post-flood, is a testament to her strength of character, her fidelity, and her leadership.

In Sinners & the Sea by Rebecca Kanner creates a backstory for the wife of Noah; she is marked and nameless but not voiceless as this is her story as she tells it. After being scorned and treated like a pariah, an aged (ie: 500year old) Noah arrives to take her as his wife, and they journey back to Sorum, a city that is a hotbed of vice and sin, into which she gives birth to three sons. And here her faith and vision is surely tested as Noah attempts to steer the people away from their depravity and wicked ways, as his own sons are gradually drawn from the path of righteousness.

And when the Lord saw what evil man had wrought, he called unto Noah to build an Ark, from which to save himself, his family, and two of each animal before he sent a deluge to earth to "exterminate from under heaven all flesh that has breath of life in it" (Genesis 6:17). Now she will need all of her strength and courage during the building of the Ark, for in such a wicked city, one can only imagine the taunts and abuse hurled their way.

We all know the rest of the story - the collection of two of every animal, the torrents of rain for forty days and forty nights, the endless floating within what surely was a claustrophobic (tomb-like) atmosphere for nigh on a year, before landing amid desolation to start anew.

Kanner's story is not sugar-coated it - the family of Noah is as flawed as any family and we often find ourselves wondering if they are really worth saving? The world they live in is harsh and unrelenting, it is full of superstition, immorality, violence, betrayal. It is into this world that Kanner posits her characters.

This is surely a powerful debut, and a masterful and emotive retelling of a known story - proper Old Testament fire and brimstone stuff. 

Review: Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries

Artifact (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, #1)

When historian Jaya Jones receives a mysterious package containing a jewel-encrusted artifact from India, she discovers the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj. But she’s not the only one on the trail.

From San Francisco to the Highlands of Scotland, Jaya must evade a shadowy stalker as she follows hints from the hastily scrawled note to a remote archaeological dig. Helping her decipher the cryptic clues are her magician best friend, a devastatingly handsome art historian with something to hide, and a charming archaeologist running for his life. When a member of the dig’s crew is murdered, Jaya must figure out which of the scholars vying for her affections might be the love of her life—and which one is a killer.

I actually finally started this one today and finished it in two sittings. I love a good adventure story with more suspects than you could point a stick at - and this did not let me down. A bit slow in parts, the story finally picks ups speed in the last 10 chapters when all the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together. Cannot wait to read the rest of the series.

The Hindi Houdini
In “The Hindi Houdini,” magician Sanjay Rai, aka The Hindi Houdini, solves a locked room mystery at the Napa Valley winery theater where he performs.

Nice little read featuring Sanjay, Jaya's best friend.

Pirate Vishnu 
A century-old treasure map of San Francisco's Barbary Coast. Sacred riches from India. Two murders, one hundred years apart. And a love triangle... Historian Jaya Jones has her work cut out for her.

Could Jaya's beloved uncle really be crook. Mysterious letters and a map lead Jaya to San Francisco and India in search of the truth, all the while the reader is firmly walking with Jaya. Nice use of the flash back story telling style.

Historian Jaya Jones finds herself on the wrong side of the law during an art heist at the Louvre. To redeem herself, she follows clues from an illuminated manuscript that lead from the cobblestone streets of Paris to the quicksand-surrounded fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. With the help of enigmatic Lane Peters and a 90-year-old stage magician, Jaya delves into France's colonial past in India to clear her name and catch a killer.

A journey to Paris is not what it seems as Jaya finds herself in the middle of an audacious crime - as a hostage. Jaya and Lane are soon investigating, and the story is far from straight forward, with plot twists to keep you entertained.

Michelangelo's Ghost 
Michelangelo's Ghost by Gigi PandianCan treasure-hunting historian Jaya Jones unmask a killer ghost? 

A lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance. A killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story. And a hidden treasure in Italy’s macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters… 

Filled with the unexpected twists, vivid historical details, and cross-cultural connections Pandian is known for, Michelangelo’s Ghost is the most fast-paced and spellbinding Jaya Jones novel to date

Once more we are treated to a rich mix of fiction loosely based on fact, as Jaya Jones goes in search of the mysterious link between Mughal India and Renaissance Italy.

Atmospheric, entertaining, another enjoyable outing from Gigi Pandian. 

The Ninja's Illusion 
35485536A fabled illusion performed by a stage magician who claims to possess real supernatural powers. A treasure from the colonial era in India when international supremacies vied for power. A phantom trading ship lost over 200 years ago. And a ninja whose murderous intentions in present-day Japan connect the deeds of a long-dead trader who was much more than he seemed… 

Jaya Jones travels to Japan to solve an historical mystery at the heart of her visit, whilst at the same time support her best friend Sanjay, who is there to perform an exciting trick of illusion. Enter a murderous ninja, a controversial magician, sabotage, ancient folklore and once again mystery and history coalesce into an entertaining read.

The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn
An unsolved murder from the 1930s. 
A ghost story to explain the impossible crime. 
A dead man in the haunted library. 
And no way for the authorities to reach the survivors until the snowstorm clears…

The perfect lock-room mystery - the setting - a haunted library - what avid reader wouldn't find this story appealling!

Review: Raven Saga by Giles Kristian

Preceeding all the hooplah of the series, "Vikings", was this trilogy by Giles Kristian. The story of a young man, taken as plunder when Norsemen attack his village, to metamorphysis into the warrior Raven. This is a period of history that holds great interest to me - I love the Viking Sagas, the journey of King Harald, of Egil, of Leif, and not to mention the heroic women. The historical re-creation of a time when the coastlines of what is now Ireland, Scotland and England, were subjected to the raiding of the Norse and the emergence of some larger than life characters is fascinating. And this is primary what drew me to book one, and the two subsequent tomes.

Book One - Raven - Blood Eye:
For two years Osric has lived a simple life, apprentice to the mute old carpenter who took him in when others would have him cast out. But when Norsemen from across the sea burn his village they also destroy his new life, and Osric finds himself a prisoner of these warriors. 

Immersed in the Norsemen's world and driven by their lust for adventure, Osric proves a natural warrior and forges a blood bond with Sigurd, who renames him Raven. When the Fellowship faces annihilation from Ealdorman Ealdred of Wessex, Raven chooses a bloody and dangerous path, accepting the mission of raiding deep into hostile lands to steal a holy book from Coenwolf, King of Mercia. There he will find much more than the Holy Gospels of St Jerome. And he will find betrayal at the hands of cruel men, some of whom he regarded as friends...

So, what did I think? I don't mind the first person narrative as we are immediately drawn to the character of Osric / Raven. The promises a tale of adventure, of battles, of plunder, of brotherhood, of betrayal - standard go-to plotline - young man captured, finds fidelity among the warriors, enter one bad guy hell bent on destroying the Fellowship, hero finds love and betrayal. But I found it a little flat - maybe it was just not the right time when I initially read this tale (2012), but looking back at my notes, I don't think so. Others have raved that Kristian is surely the heir-apparent to Bernard Cornwall - this really has no bearing on my review as I am not such a fan of Cornwall.

Book Two - Raven - Sons of Thunder:
Raven and his Wolfpack of Norsemen have been double crossed. The traitor Ealdred seeks to sell a holy book to the Emperor Charlemagne which will ensure riches beyond his wildest dreams. Greed drives him forward, but a band of fearsome warriors is in pursuit across the sea to Charlemagne's Frankish empire -- with the bloodiest of revenge on their minds.

Slaughter is certain as the Fellowship trap Ealdred and his men at the mouth of the river Sicauna in Frankia. Sigurd the Lucky challenges Ealdred's bodyguard Mauger in an ancient duel called the holmgang, and only one will walk away with his life. 

The continuing saga of the Viking Raven and his band of warrior brothers with the Fellowship on the trail of the evil Ealdred and pursue him to the lands of Charlemagne. This builds on book one, and I was pleased to say that the action and adventure picks up, and my reading interest was suitably maintained. The characters are finally developing, and the descriptive narrative of the journey is engaging. A much stronger outing with this book as Kristian has managed to capture the times (the good, the bad, the ugly) well. 

Book Three - Raven - Odin's Wolves:
Plunging through the living hell of Pope Leo’s shattered, perverted Rome, the dragon-faced ships of Sigurd the Lucky are manned by a strange and fearsome crew: among the Norsemen is Raven, a young man of uncertain parentage ...robbed of the woman he loves, destined to play a cunning role in the boldest of attacks. For the Vikings are on their way to glimmering Constantinople to put a deposed emperor back on his rightful throne—and claim the most magnificent prize of all. 

Travelling through Rome, the Fellowship is on its way to Constantinople. And here again I found the story a little bland, until the last when the action finally kicks in. I found the journey wasn't as fluid as in book two.

On another note, it is rather strange that after reading this series I found out that these stories fall in the latter stages in the life of Sigurd Haraldarson, and that there is a set of books dealing with his earlier story. I am pleased, in a strange way to hear this, as I felt more empathy with Sigurd than Raven. I might even revisit the Raven series after tackling Sigurd.

For more on Sigurd see:
  • God of Vengeance
  • Winters Fire
  • Wings of the Storm

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Women Surgeons of World War I

Focusing on four women surgeons who made their way to war. Agnes Bennett and Lilian Cooper worked for the Scottish Women's Hospitals near the Serbian front. Conditions were incredibly harsh but both women acquitted themselves well. They returned to successful careers in New Zealand and Australia respectively.

Lilian Cooper was also our first female FRACS. Feminist Phoebe Chapple went to France in 1917 and while attached to the Queen Mary's Auxiliary Army Corps, was one of a handful of women to win the Military Medal. Vera Scantlebury was 28 when she arrived at the Endell St Military Hospital in London. Her diaries (held by the University of Melbourne Archives) record the evolution of a young and inexperienced doctor to a competent surgeon. Vera Scantlebury (Brown) was later fêted for her pioneering work in infant welfare.

The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman

The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman
Meredith Wadman’s masterful account recovers not only the science of this urgent race, but also the political roadblocks that nearly stopped the scientists. She describes the terrible dilemmas of pregnant women exposed to German measles and recounts testing on infants, prisoners, orphans, and the intellectually disabled, which was common in the era. These events take place at the dawn of the battle over using human fetal tissue in research, during the arrival of big commerce in campus labs, and as huge changes take place in the laws and practices governing who “owns” research cells and the profits made from biological inventions. It is also the story of yet one more unrecognized woman whose cells have been used to save countless lives.

From Star2:

The book weaves its way around the morally ambiguous and morally repugnant history of vaccines, from their commercialisation – something that was quite unusual at the time, and which brought Hayflick a lot of flak, ultimately derailing his career – to the horrific testing and experimentation carried out on people without their knowledge.

Despite writing an entire book on the subject, Wadman suggests that rather than revile the actions of the scientists of the past, we should take the opportunity to look at what is being done at the moment.

The Sun and Two Seas by Vikramajit Ram

Image resultThis magical tale woven around historical events during the construction of Kalinga’s Konark sun temple in the mid-13th century, is Vikramajit Ram’s fourth book. 

At first, readers might believe this is a revenge tale but the real turn in the action occurs when the lovers in the story are separated. Their love story will take you by surprise and warm your heart. It will then crush it, quite like your very first love did, in a sudden and cold manner.

Despite weaving a fine tangle of plots and characters, the story progresses neatly. By the end, it is hard to settle upon one character as the protagonist for all the characters are temptingly meaty. But if one had to choose a protagonist, it would be the story. The best kind of books manage that.

The Women Who Flew for Hitler by Clare Mulley

From Historia Magazine:

Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg were talented, courageous and strikingly attractive women who fought convention to make their names in the male-dominated field of flight in 1930s Germany. With the war, both became pioneering test pilots and both were awarded the Iron Cross for service to the Third Reich. But they could not have been more different and neither woman had a good word to say for the other.

Acclaimed biographer Clare Mulley gets under the skin of these two distinctive and unconventional women, giving a full – and as yet largely unknown – account of their contrasting yet strangely parallel lives, against a changing backdrop of the 1936 Olympics, the Eastern Front, the Berlin Air Club, and Hitler’s bunker.

Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and Birth of the FBI

Killers of the Flower Moon - book cover.jpgKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David McGrann investigates a series of murders of wealthy Osage people that took place in Osage County, Oklahoma in the early 1920s—after big oil deposits were discovered beneath their land. Officially, the count of the murdered full-blood wealthy Osage native Americans reaches at least 20, but Grann suspects that hundreds more may have been killed because of their ties to oil. The book reports cattleman William Hale as the mastermind standing behind the murders and presents detailed evidence.

In the 1890s, the Osage had been decanted from homelands in Kansas into seemingly barren wastes in Oklahoma. The discovery of ­hydrocarbons beneath, however, shortly made them the richest people per capita in the world, occupying, as Grann puts it, America’s first ‘‘underground reservation’’.

After the oil-drilling came the gold-digging: soon enough, everyone wanted a piece of the Osage action. Conmen moved in to rip them off; lawmakers set to screwing them down; marrying an Osage provided access to an enviable lifestyle. A 30-year-old woman from Oregon wrote the tribe offering her hand: ‘‘Will you please tell the richest Indian you know of, and he will find me as good and true as any human being can be.’’

Not everyone was so ingenuous. If misfortune should befall an Osage partner, potential rewards multiplied. The official death toll of the ‘‘Reign of Terror’’ is something in the order of 60. Unofficially, Grann suggests, it is incalculable. A staff writer for The New Yorker, he concentrates on only one of a host of conspiracies, an investigation of the vendetta against the family of one Mollie Burkhart, engineered by cowboy turned ‘‘high-class gentleman’’ Bill Hale, who was at first, ironically, perceived as a sympathiser with the Osage.

read more here 

The Hopkins Conundrum by Simon Edge

Tim Cleverley has inherited a struggling pub in North Wales, near the Jesuit seminary where Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote the poem The Wreck of the Deutschland.

Inspired by a terrible holiday with his ex on the trail of blockbuster Holy Grail novel The Poussin Conundrum, Tim hits on a plan to drum up more trade. He invents a mystery around Hopkin’s obscure religious poem and the local area, and entices the Conundrum’s author to come and write about it.

What follows is a witty satire in which Edge cleverly weaves together Hopkins’ struggles as he writes the poem, those of a group of nuns on the doomed Deutschland and Tim’s bid to turn his corner of the world into the next Grail hunting hotspot.

By turns gripping and laugh-out-loud funny, this is a great read for anyone who has ever reached the end of a Vatican thriller with an eyebrow raised.

The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath

Tom Williams reviews "The Woman in the Shadows" by Carol McGrath for Historia Magazine:

McGrath’s book brings Elizabeth Cromwell out of the shadows but Cromwell himself becomes a very shadowy figure in his turn.

McGrath strikes a fine balance between Elizabeth Cromwell the successful independent businesswoman and Elizabeth Cromwell the victim of a potentially violent and sexist society. We understand her reliance on men and, at the same time, her fierce independence. It’s significant, though, that in the end she gives up her job and her independence to take on the role of professional wife, entertaining Cromwell’s friends as his political star rises.

The book shows the power that women could wield in this almost parallel feminine society, but it does not romanticise their position in the wider world.

Carol McGrath

Brave by Rose McGowan

BRAVERose McGowan was born in one cult and came of age in another, more visible cult: Hollywood.

In a strange world where she was continually on display, stardom soon became a personal nightmare of constant exposure and sexualization. Rose escaped into the world of her mind, something she had done as a child, and into high-profile relationships. Every detail of her personal life became public, and the realities of an inherently sexist industry emerged with every script, role, public appearance, and magazine cover. The Hollywood machine packaged her as a sexualized bombshell, hijacking her image and identity and marketing them for profit.

Hollywood expected Rose to be silent and cooperative and to stay the path. Instead, she rebelled and asserted her true identity and voice. She reemerged unscripted, courageous, victorious, angry, smart, fierce, unapologetic, controversial, and real as f*ck.

BRAVE is her raw, honest, and poignant memoir/manifesto—a no-holds-barred, pull-no-punches account of the rise of a millennial icon, fearless activist, and unstoppable force for change who is determined to expose the truth about the entertainment industry, dismantle the concept of fame, shine a light on a multibillion-dollar business built on systemic misogyny, and empower people everywhere to wake up and be BRAVE.

read more here 

Frederic Dard - "Unknown" Noir Crime Author

From The Guardian:
Frederic Dard at home in Switzerland in 1982.He was a close friend of Georges Simenon, the author whose fictional detective, Jules Maigret, became a TV hit in 1960s Britain. But despite writing 300 crime thrillers and selling 200 million books in his native France, Frédéric Dard remains almost unknown in Britain. Not one of his novels is in print in English.

But all that is about to change. Sixteen years after Dard’s death, a British publisher is gambling on him being the next big thing in detective fiction. On 2  June, Pushkin Press will publish Bird in a Cage under its Vertigo crime imprint, the first in a planned series of Dard’s psychological “novels of the night”.

For me, Dard's books offer the reader a new take on the genre of noir fiction as his books are translated in English courtesy of Pushkin Press.  And whilst late to his works, I am slowly working my way through those that had, to date, been translated and published.

My Reviews of:
Crush (also know as The Wretches)

Read more on Dard:
@ New York Times (again)