Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review: Wayland's Revenge by Lesley Lodge

Wayland’s Revenge
Set in the time of the English Civil War, a man, a soldier in the Parliamentary forces, returns home to find his son a mute and his wife dead, killed as a witch. As he attempts to put his life back together and find out what lead to such tragic events, an old comrade arrives in search of a missing lad.

As the two men (and the mute son) set out, they get caught up with the imprisoned King's army at Bantry and the siege of Colchester (1648), where aAmid the besieging army lurks pure evil in human form.

The novel, whilst not overly long, manages to depict the savagery of civil war and the consequences for non-combatants. The events did actually take place, the massacre of women after the battle of Naseby did occur though the reasons still remain a mystery, Sir Thomas Fairfax was in charge of the Parliamentarians, and only after defeat at Preston did the Royalists surrender - the terms were real. The Sealed Knot was a secret society dedicated to the restoration of the Monarchy (active after the death of Charles I in 1649) and they made eight attempts to bring about the restoration of Charles II (1652 - 1659), though the group was ultimately betrayed by Sir Richard Willis to John Thurloe.

This is definitely well researched - the violence of the times depicted within these pages will not be to everyone's liking - but this is based on true events - so take it, warts and all. I have been reading a bit more from this period in history, and have added a few tomes to my library - this will be another one.

Review: The Sentence Is Death by Anthony Horowitz

The Sentence is Death (Hawthorne, #2)
For someone who "... had no wish to turn myself into a character, a secondary one at that; the perennial sidekick .." that is exactly what Horowitz has done, quite possibly for the second time, if one reads between the lines correctly.

Anyway, whilst in the midst of filming an episode of "Foyle's War", Dorian Gray like detective, Daniel Hawthorn whisks Horowitz away to investigate the murder of high profile divorce lawyer, Richard Pryce. With some cracking dialogue, basic powers of observation - "... so far I had missed three clues and misconstrued two more. Things were only going to get worse." - Hawthorn and Horowitz must work ahead of the police investigation to solve this little mystery, all while trying to finish filming, re-write scenes, dealing with malevolent police detectives, and attending book club.

Horowtiz is humourous and self deprecating, the naive Watson to Hawthorn's oft-times annoying, condescending, and definitely not PC Holmes. By the end of it all you are left with one question - is it real or just very clever writing .....

Review: Paisanos by Tim Fanning

A review of "Paisanos: the Irish and the Liberation of Latin America" by Tim Fanning could literally be a book in itself. The subject matter to hand it is so vast that to encompass it all in detail would invite a series of books not just one tome. Fanning attempts to give readers a broader focus, highlighting the important events and leaders, whilst covering the Spanish colonies in central and southern America during the early 19th Century, and the significant role the Irish played in the independence movement.  And he has managed to convincingly do so.

We begin the the Irish exiles of the 16th and 17th Centuries - the Wild Geese - who settled in Spain and France (not to be confused with the Flight of the Earls in 1607 - which I guess could be the precursor to the flight of the geese). The battle of Kinsale, 1601, fought during the Nine Years War of 1594-1603, marked a turning point in Irish history. The political power of the Gaelic nobility was broken, royal (English) authority in the kingdom was enhanced, though Ireland still remained strategically important for other European powers, especially Spain and, later, France. Thus, when political, social and religious changes at home caused many Irish to migrate, temporarily or permanently, they headed for Habsburg and Bourbon territories. 

At first, the role was one of support for Spanish rule in its fledgeling colonies. Irish migration to the Spanish empire, from 17th-century Hapsburg Spain to 18th-century Bourbon Spain, from Europe to the new World, from Madrid, Brussels or Cadiz to Havana, Lima and Chile was complex. Even though Ireland did not form part of this empire, the contribution of Irishmen and Irishwomen to this multinational empire was remarkable. 

Through army careers and the concession of nobility titles, Spanish kings placed the Irish exiled lords and gentry in an advantageous position on a par with the nobility in the early modern Spanish world. Imposition of orthodox Catholicism within the Spanish realms implied the social inclusion of certain ‘nations’ such as the Irish and the exclusion/repression of other groups who were not assimilatable into that society – Jews, Moriscos and Gypsies. Not all Irish migrants were soldiers, nor were they all men; not all obtained honours and integration and; even for the Irish nobility, assimilation could be difficult. 

Having said that, the Irish did play a key role in the military, religious, mercantile and commercial, and literary life, especially in the 18th Century where "... it was possible for an Irishman from a humble background to succeed in the New World against the odds...". The adaptability of the Irish, driven both by financial need and a healthy spirit of adventure, supported Spanish colonial activities as well as later providing a foil against them.

And it was in the second phase that the relationship between Ireland and Latin America, drawing upon a shared history of struggle against colonialism, developed into support for the independence movements. And there were times when Irishmen (and women) fought on both sides, against each other. 

Never has lasting political change occurred so rapidly over such a large area as in Latin America in the sixteen years from 1809. Moreover this sudden transformation was entirely unforeseen. These regions lived without major upheaval for three centuries under authoritarian Spanish rule, until the recent ideals of the American and French revolutions have led some to dream of change. In other parts of South America, the Irish were playing key roles in the independence of the likes of the viceroyalties New Spain (the West Indies and the mainland down to Panama and Gutalmala); New Granada (Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador); New Peru (Peru, most of Chile and western Bolivia); and lastly, La Plata (eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and the southern tip of Chile). Even then, their role did not necessarily stop there as these new nations often imploded with civil wars of their own.

And it is here that we are introduced to the famous San Patricios, Irishmen who fought against America during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. In the wake of the famine in Ireland, thousands emigrated to America, and an Irish Brigade was raised to support the US encroachment into Mexico. One can only speculate on why the troops deserted prior to the war beginning; however they went on to play an important role, making their last stand at the battle for Mexico City in 1581 where today they are still remembered as heroes.

The final part of the story is the integration and settlement of those Irish - a wrap up of  how and where they ended up, and the fate of their descendants - did they remain or return to Ireland's green pastures to embark on a new wave of revolution in the 20th century.

I found this to be a compelling history if the Irish diaspora in Latin America. And there is plenty contained within to encourage a more indepth study of this period. I was not wholly conversant with this particular part of Irish history - and often wondered what happened to those other "Wild Geese" - though I was familiar with the fate of the Irish who migrated to both the USA and Australia and their contributions. My mind boggled at the vast resources available online for the enthusiast to delve further (so much further) into this topic. This is a worthy addition to any library whose focus is Irish history - I know it will find a place in mine.

Further reading:

Scoundrels by Major Cornwall and Major Trevelyan

These memoirs are authored by two disreputable spies; or cads, rakes, rascals, bounders - call them what you will. Based in the form of a manuscript submitted to a publisher, these two "gentlemen" - Major Victor Montgomery Cornwall and Major Arthur St John Trevelyan - have been under house arrest for 30 years and for what we do not yet know - and have decided, by means of a series of letters (ie: snail mail) to relive certain aspects of their lives (adventures) to set the record straight and vindicate themselves.

I will preface this by saying that these memoirs are at times, humourous, vulgar, questionable, comedic, slapstick, incredible. These are tales of war, sex, love, adventure, deceit, murder, with the central point being the Scoundrels Club of Piccadilly. 
As over-confident seventeen year olds, Trevelyan and I were initiated into Scoundrels Club. Lunk Snr immediately handed us an undertaking, club parlance for ‘something that needs squaring away, putting right, or sweeping under the carpet’. Little did we know it would mark the start of a long and illustrious career of lying, cheating, stealing and skullduggery. Or to dignify it, espionage."
One must begin with the first in the series - Scoundrels - wherein we are introduced to the two Majors as they are now and as they begin to look back (from the 1920s to the 1950s). Sometimes the story-telling is more along the lines of a game on one-up-manship (there is also a healthy dose of animosity between the two) wherein we are treated to both sides of the story, and where the Majors' nemesis, in the form of former school chum Gruber Hansclapp, emerges.

The memoirs are also based around a series of well-known historical events - which readers will readily identify with, though will find themselves questioning if either of the Majors actually appeared in anything they have previously read.

Scoundrels: The Hunt for Hansclapp continues in the same vein - and takes place in the period from the 1950s to 1970s. And outwitting them at every turn - their Moriarty - is Gruber Hansclapp. Will they get their man - will the mystery of their house arrest be revealed - will the ever be released back into the real world.

It's billed as "... historically accurate, morally questionable and absolutely true ..." and dare I say, so politically incorrect! So if you are easily offended - step away now.

Interview with James Peak & Duncan Crowe (publishers or trustees of the memoirs) here @ The Turnaround Blog

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Cecily Duchess of York: J. L. Laynesmith

Media of Cecily Duchess of YorkThis is the first scholarly biography of Cecily Neville, duchess of York, the mother of Edward IV and Richard III. She was said to have ruled Edward IV 'as she pleased' and Richard III made his bid for the throne from her home. Yet Cecily has been a shadowy figure in modern histories, noted primarily for her ostentatious piety, her expensive dresses, and the rumours of her adultery. 

Here J. L. Laynesmith draws on a wealth of rarely considered sources to construct a fresh and revealing portrait of a remarkable woman. Cecily was the only major protagonist to live right through the Wars of the Roses. This book sheds new light on that bloody conflict in which Cecily proved herself an exceptional political survivor. Skilfully manipulating her family connections and contemporary ideas about womanhood, Cecily repeatedly reinvented herself to protect her own status and to ensure the security of those in her care.

From her childhood marriage to Richard duke of York until her final decade as grandmother of the first Tudor queen, the story of Cecily Neville's life provides a rich insight into national and local politics, women's power and relationships, motherhood, household dynamics and the role of religion in fifteenth-century England.

Frederick Barbarossa: the Prince and the Myth by John Freed

Frederick Barbarossa is arguably one of the most important German rulers of the Middle Ages, and certainly one of the best known. Still, English-speaking readers have had to wait a long time for a biography of this Holy Roman Emperor. Yale University Press has now published John B. Freed’s monumental and learned biography of the emperor.

For specialists of Barbarossa’s reign, particularly in Germany, the book does not offer many new interpretations, but to wish for more detail in a book of 700 pages may seem improper. Moreover, it is not a book aimed at these specialists. It is, rather, the first English-language biography of Frederick Barbarossa in several decades. It offers an excellent introduction to all relevant sources, which Freed commands in the fashion of a true master, and into most of the relevant scholarly debates, at least in German. Freed has written an erudite and immensely readable biography of Frederick that is very rich in historical detail and that – despite some problems – offers a reliable introduction into German history of the 12th century and into the debates among German scholars about this time. It will remain, for generations to come, and rightfully so, the standard work in English on Frederick Barbarossa and Germany in the 12th century.

read more here @ Reviews in History

The Free Port of Livorno by Corey Tazzara

In the twilight of the Renaissance, the grand duke of Tuscany--a scion of the fabled Medici family of bankers--invited foreign merchants, artisans, and ship captains to settle in his port city of Livorno. The town quickly became one of the most bustling port cities in the Mediterranean, presenting a rich tableau of officials, merchants, mariners, and slaves. Nobody could have predicted in 1600 that their activities would contribute a chapter in the history of free trade. Yet by the late seventeenth century, the grand duke's invitation had evolved into a general program of hospitality towards foreign visitors, the liberal treatment of goods, and a model for the elimination of customs duties. Livorno was the earliest and most successful example of a free port in Europe. The story of Livorno shows the seeds of liberalism emerging, not from the studies of philosophers such as Adam Smith, but out of the nexus between commerce, politics, and identity in the early modern Mediterranean.

read more here @ OUP Blog

Kate Mosse on The Burning Chambers

Bestselling author Kate Mosse visited the graveyard in Franschhoek several years ago and felt such a strong sense of the links between the southwest of France and the Cape, the landscape and Huguenot history that, she says, a shiver ran down her spine. It inspired The Burning Chambers.

Readers are plunged into 16th-century France, to a time of bloody strife between Protestants and Catholics, persecution of the Huguenots and the massacre of Toulouse. Like her Languedoc trilogy (Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel), this novel is set predominantly in Carcassonne.

“All my fiction is inspired by place, by landscape,” she says. Mosse knows the place – she goes there every month to write. When she’s there the history of this fortified medieval city is palpable to her. She’s walked the ancient streets and climbed the towers and seen the sun on the citadel, and this intimate knowledge she bring to The Burning Chambers.

read more here @ Sunday Times Books and Kate Mosse's WEBSITE

In the realms of gold: exploring Africa’s rich history

The Golden Rhinoceros is bursting with new worlds from Africa’s medieval past — a time when merchants began connecting a patchwork of ancient kingdoms, stretching from modern-day Morocco to South Africa, into wider networks of power, wealth, religion, goods and ideas. Fauvelle has created a collage of the continent from 34 different sources, each relating to trade and eloquently discussed in brief chapters. They are dots of light which, when combined, illuminate whole swathes of the dark continent, ranging from the coming of Islam in the western Sahara in the 7th century, to the 4,000 gold mines pockmarked across 14th-century Zimbabwe.

Book Seller Link: Angus & Robertson

Two new English books on Byzantium and Mediterranean history by a Greek

From Tornos News:

Greek historian and researcher Dr. Georgios Theotokis has contributed to the large volume of knowledge in the post-ancient Roman era, by releasing two titles in English: “Byzantine Military tactics in Syria and Mesopotamia in the 10th Century” and “A Military History of the Mediterranean Sea”, reports.

Two new English books on Byzantium and Mediterranean history by a Greek

The dynamic and laborious researcher proved with his efforts that Greek intellectuals remain relevant in the international arena.

His first book was published by Edinburgh University Publications and the second by the world-renowned Dutch publishing house Brill.

The first book “The Byzantine Army Tactics in Syria and Mesopotamia in the 10th Century” has been in bookshops in Great Britain and the US since October.

For the release of the second (“A Military History of the Mediterranean Sea “), published internationally in July 2018, Theotokis collaborated with Turkish historian Aysel Yildiz.

Dr. Theotokas has the third book in the pipelines and is scheduled to be launched in bookstores across the UK and the US next February, while he has already signed a contract for three more books with English publishing houses.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him by Tracy Borman

When we see Henry through the men in his life, a new perspective on this famous king emerges...

40527728I am not sure what I was expecting when selecting this book; however, on the basis of the title "... the men who made him" I thought I was getting a new spin of the character of Henry VIII.  What I read was nothing new, nothing I could not have read in in number of tomes on this monarch.  The only difference here is that there is very little mention of the wives.

So what was I expecting: I guess a little more on the main figures in Henry's life.  We have plenty on Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer, Brandon, and even a little on some of the men who served him in various capacities - his "youths of evil counsel".  But how much of an influence on Henry were any of them?

We read that Henry's father was aloof, cool, suspicious and that when Henry finally came to rule, was determined to not be like him.  We read that his tutor and chaplain John Skelton was "responsible for shaping his spiritual and intellectual upbringing".  But did either man "make him"?

From an early age - usually around the time of Arthur's marriage - we get a sense of a young Henry enjoying the spotlight, of wanting to be the centre of attention, of his future vanity, of his early need for adulation. 

As his rule progresses, we get more of a sense of the man - his jealousies, his fickleness, his insecurities, his need to be surrounded by fawning sycophants, his ability to change from benevolent patron to destroying angel.  But how much an affect did those surrounding the king actually have on him.  He swings from one direction to another - loathe to take on the task of government then micro-managing his ministers.  Some may have been able to briefly bend the ear of the king, flaming his paranoia or indulging him like a doting parent; but did they actually contributed to the development of the king's persona??

I am not sure if the brief is actually met - I had no understanding of how any of the men in Henry's circle really had so much of an influence on him that they "made" the king the man as we have come to know him.  What I would have liked, rather than yet another history of Henry and his reign, were vignettes of the more prominent men - detailing what role they played.  I wanted to know how these men actually contributed to the making of this monarch - but I was left unsatisfied. I could pick up any number of books on my own bookcase and glean the same information that was contained herein.  

Also, I am not sure that you could consider the rule of Wolsey and Cromwell to be anything other than two lowly born men, who had an aptitude for government, which merely facilitated Henry's self-indulging and aggrandizing lifestyle.  I just had no real sense that any of them shaped the man.  Afterall, to whom do we ascribe the tyranny, the volatility, the cruelty, the almost bipolar nature of Henry - who will put his hand up to this?  I had many questions that went unanswered.

I have no complaints about the writing, the research, the overall presentation - it is an acceptable biography on this great Tudor monarch (though very pro-Tudor).  But, like Oliver Twist - I wanted more and was left wanting.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review: The Lady In The Cellar by Sinclair McKay

On 8th May 1879, the corpse of former resident, Matilda Hacker, was uncovered by chance in the coal cellar. The investigation that followed this macabre discovery stripped bare the shadow-side of Victorian domesticity, throwing the lives of everyone within into an extraordinary and destructive maelstrom. For someone in Number 4 Euston Square must have had full knowledge of what had happened to Matilda Hacker. Someone in that house had killed her. How could the murderer prove so amazingly elusive?

I love this type of mystery wherein a crime from some time past, with an unsatisfactory conclusion, is dusted off to see if further light can be shed on the mystery at hand. This is not a fictional account of what may or may not have happened; it is an open factual investigation which looks at the crime, the suspects, the criminal investigation at the time, and the conclusion.

Sinclair McKay gives us an overview of the times, in which the population was moving from a closed style of social system, to one in which was often transient, diverse, and anonymous. From an investigative perspective, the CID section of Scotland Yard was newly established and forensic science was developing yet rudimentary. Inspector Charles Hagen was selected due to his close associations and work with the German immigrant community (I liked that fact that he was a contemporary of Inspector Abbeline - later of Ripper fame).

The story as presented was fairly lengthy - I felt some of the components could have quite easily have been condensed: social commentary; family, witness, suspect backgrounds; the investigations and trials (in which the same evidence was presented thrice over). A number of possible scenarios are put forward at the end (though again inconclusive) after a wrap of of where everyone connected to the case ended up.

I realise a lot of research goes into the fleshing out these stories; however, sometimes less is more. When the reader is bombarded with too much information, attentions wander, pages are skipped, and the anticipated enjoyment of reading is lessened. Unfortunately, this is what I experienced. I think the inclusion of some visual aids - street plans, newspaper clippings, etc may have heightened my reading pleasure (I do look forward to these - my edition did not have these, however they may appear in the final published version). And, I wonder if presenting in a more abridged version (ie: adapted for television) may have conveyed enough information for a still engrossing story. 

Having said that, there are many who will definitely love this story in the format presented - though I will add that I did not dislike the book itself just felt a little more subjective editing was required.

Further Reading:
@ Old Bailey Proceedings - Siwerin Bastendorff
@ Town & Country Journal - Euston Square Mystery
@ Canterbury Archaeology - Intriguing Story of Matilda Hacker
@ Murder Research - Victorian Trials 1870 - 1879
@ Mysteries of Police & Crime by Arthur Griffiths (Euston Square Mystery, pg 453)

Review: The Man of Dangerous Secrets by Maxwell March

"In the past twenty four hours he had stumbled into the very midst of something which baffled him completely.  In that brief interval he had caught glimpses of a web of intrigue and danger so closely knit that it seemed doubtful if , once within it, one could ever escape."

The perfect summary for this classic tome from noted author Margery Allingham writing under the pseudonym of Maxwell March.  I love classic crime, especially that written between the 1920s - 1970s.  There is just something about the style, the mystery, the whole set up - which is why they are classics.

In this installment, Robin Grey, who works in the murky shadows of Scotland Yard or the Home Office (one never quite knows), witnesses an incident at Waterloo Station that sets him off on a mission to rescue a damsel in distress.

Without revealing too much of the plot, Grey inserts himself into the life of the damsel, Jennifer Fern, in an attempt to find out why she is being so cruelly persecuted - and who is behind it all.  There are some shady characters with whom Grey comes into contact - however, like all good mysteries, no-one is really who they claim to be, leaving Grey wondering what he has gotten himself into.

The story rolls on towards its inevitable conclusion; however, clues are dropped like the proverbial breadcrumbs, leading this way and that, as each of the five protagonists are revealed for what they really are.

Related imageThis is storytelling at its best - and this was one of three stories Allingham wrote as Maxwell March (the other two being Rogues' Holiday and the Shadow in the House).

See more here:

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Review: Handsome Johnny by Lee Server


Handsome Johnny
A singular figure in the annals of the American underworld, Johnny Rosselli’s career flourished for an extraordinary fifty years, from the bloody years of bootlegging .... to the modern era of organized crime as a dominant corporate power. The Mob’s “Man in Hollywood,” Johnny Rosselli introduced big-time crime to the movie industry, corrupting unions and robbing moguls in the biggest extortion plot in history. A man of great allure and glamour, Rosselli befriended many of the biggest names in the movie capital ....  seduced some of its greatest female stars .... and produced two of the best film noirs of the 1940s.

Following years in federal prison, Rosselli began a new venture, overseeing the birth and heyday of Las Vegas. Working for new Chicago boss Sam Giancana, he became the gambling mecca’s behind-the-scenes boss, running the town from his suites and poolside ..... enjoying the Rat Pack nightlife with pals Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. In the 1960s, Rosselli became the central figure in a bizarre plot involving the Kennedy White House, the CIA, and an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. Based upon years of research, written with compelling style and vivid detail, Handsome Johnny is the great telling of an amazing tale.

A smile can get you far, but a smile with a gun can get you further. - Al Capone

Now I was intrigued. Having read Martin Short's "Crime Inc" many times, I could not for the life of me remember coming across Johnny Rosselli's name in any context. In fact, I picked up the book again to ensure that I hadn't missed it - I hadn't - he's not listed or mentioned.

So who was this shadowy figure? From Server's well-researched and vivid biography, Rosselli is hardly camera shy, being involved in some of the biggest Mob activities from the 1920s to the 1960s. Server does well to tease out the little that is known about Rosselli's life, particularly his early life in Boston, which he himself endeavoured to keep secret - changing his name to ensure that it was. He moved in notable crime circles with the likes of Capone, Siegel, Lansky, Luciano, Giancana; produced two Hollywood films; was a mover and shaker in the early Las Vegas casino era of the 1940s & 1950s, where he hob-nobbed with the likes of Hollywood's Rat Pack, aspiring politicians and dodgy union bosses.

Yet nearly everything about Rosselli was cloaked in mystery; that is, until the FBI had him in their crossfire, and his wheeling and dealing was revealed, via a snitch. This investigation by the FBI opened up old wounds and long kept secrets, and eventually involved the CIA. Even in death, another mystery; why was Rosselli killed (or rubbed out) and by who - the Mob, the FBI, the CIA? Theories still abound.

Quite frankly, you can't make this stuff up - even if it does read like fiction. Rosselli lived through some of the most fascinating events and decades in history: the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, the Great Depression, the Second World War, McCathyism, JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Server's research stands him in good stead in bringing to the fore a man who had his finger in many pies - and yet, Rosselli still somehow manages to remains an enigma.  If the Mob history is your genre, then add this to the shelves of your library.

Further Reading: 
All American Mafioso: The Johnny Rosselli Story by Charles Rappleye & Ed Becker
The FBI Records: The Vault - John (Handsome Johnny) Roselli
New York Times - Mafia Said To Have Slain Rosselli
The Harold Weisburg Archive - Obituary of Johnny Rosselli
Wikipedia - John Roselli
Break Shot Blog - Johnny Rosselli

See also my review @ Book Browse

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Guide to the Classics: The Icelandic Saga

Icelanders love books, both reading and writing them, and in recent years, translations of contemporary Icelandic literature have made it into bookshops and literary pages abroad in increasing numbers.

“Saga” is an Icelandic word that means “something said, a narrative.” Originally, the term is likely to have been applied to stories that were probably formed and transmitted orally. Later, they came to be recorded in writing, in handwritten manuscripts, many of which survive to the present day, though a good number have perished over the past 500 years or so.

Sagas of kings are historical biographies of the kings of Norway (and to a lesser extent, of Denmark) from prehistoric times into the 14th century.

The most widely accessible at present are probably the most recent Penguin translations, which are new editions of a five-volume series originally published in Iceland in 1997 as “The Complete Sagas of Icelanders.” 

My personal favourite compilation is Jane Smiley's "Sagas of the Icelanders

Bigamy, bankruptcy and poisoning at ancient Monks Hall, Waveney

Bigamy, arsenic and a tragic wartime pilot are all part of the story of a stunning Waveney manor house. One tenant was accused of arsenic poisoning, another was a convicted bigamist. Monk’s Hall, a beautiful manor house in Syleham, near Diss, has seen 1,000 years of history and could be the oldest continually-occupied house in Suffolk.

Monks Hall: The History of a Waveney Valley Manor, by Elaine Murphy, is published by Poppyland Publishing

Image result for Monks Hall: The History of a Waveney Valley Manor
From the publisher:
This story of a Waveney Valley manor house and estate is told through the lives of its owners, occupants and admirers, a tale that spans 1000 years and provides a fascinating social history of rural England in one place, extensively researched and written by someone with a love of the Waveney Valley. The manor was unusually well documented from medieval times because it was owned by the monks at Thetford Priory, who kept a detailed record of expenditure and gave a description of a house recognisable today, despite its 16th century ‘renovations’. After the dissolution of the priory in the mid 16th century, a succession of owners and scientifically gifted absentee landlords neglected to modernise the hall, leaving it remarkably little changed over the centuries until it was restored and renewed in the 1930s. The people who lived at Monks Hall weathered famine, riots, plague, religious intolerance and war; their family lives reflect the rigours of country living over a millennium.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic by John Zubrzycki

Review by Kapil Komireddi for The National:

“Ask the average man for what India is most celebrated, and the chances are ten to one that he ..... will unhesitatingly reply in one word, ‘jugglers’,” the Strand Magazine wrote in its December 1899 issue. “India’s jugglers”, the magazine went on to explain, “have been the wonder of India”. There was scarcely anyone in England who was not aware of the jugglers’ “‘Jadoo’, or magic working”. India’s reputation as a land of the occult wasn’t, as John Zubrzycki reminds us in his delightful and charming new book Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic, just confined to Britain.

By the medieval era, magic became so inextricably linked with India – where tricks merged with, and enlivened, religious ritual – that Indian magic manuals, translated into Arabic, were being hawked on the streets of Baghdad by the city’s fabled booksellers during the Abbasid caliphate. After India fell to the British, it became an object of fascination and condescension and a source of fear for Europeans. Countless conjurers travelled to India, convinced that it was the place to find and master pure magic.

read more @ Scribe Publications  and @ The National

The End of Outrage by Breandan Mac Suibhne

Cover for 

The End of Outrage

From the time that the blight first came on the potatoes in Ireland in 1845, armed and masked men dubbed Molly Maguires had been raiding the houses of people deemed to be taking advantage of the rural poor. On some occasions, they represented themselves as "Molly's Sons," sent by their mother, to carry out justice; on others, a man attired as a woman, introducing "herself" as Molly Maguire, demanding redress for wrongs inflicted on her children. The raiders might stipulate the maximum price at which provisions were to be sold, warn against the eviction of tenants, or demand that an evicted family be reinstated to their holding. People who refused to meet their demands were often viciously beaten and, in some instances, killed-offences that the Constabulary classified as "outrages." Catholic clergymen regularly denounced the Mollies and in 1853, the district was proclaimed under the Crime and Outrage (Ireland) Act. Yet the "outrages" continued.

Central to The End of Outrage, the Irish Times Irish Nonfiction Book of the Year for 2017, is the story of a schoolmaster, Patrick McGlynn, who turned informer on the Molly Maguires, the nationalist secret society, in 1856. The following year Dublin Castle sent McGlynn to Australia– and, there, after 1862, the author Breandán Mac Suibhne lost sight of him. Now, with Jonathan Wooding, a historian and a direct descendant of the informer, he picks up the trail.

Ike & Kay by James McManus

The sweeping love story at the heart of the Second World War, vividly reimagining General Eisenhower and Kate Summersby’s infamous, star-crossed affair

Image result for ike and kayIn his latest historical novel Ike and Kay, acclaimed author James MacManus brings to life an unbelievably true and controversial romance and the poignant characters and personalities that shaped the course of world history.

In 1942, Kay Summersby’s life is changed forever when she is conscripted to drive General Eisenhower on his fact-finding visit to wartime London. Despite Eisenhower’s marriage to Mamie, the pair takes an immediate liking to each other and he buys Kay a rare wartime luxury: a box of chocolates.

So begins a tumultuous relationship that, against all military regulation, sees Kay traveling with Eisenhower on missions to far-flung places before the final assault on Nazi Germany. The general does dangerously little to conceal his affair with the woman widely known as “Ike’s shadow,” and in letters Mamie bemoans his new obsession with “Ireland.” That does not stop him from using his influence to grant Kay citizenship and rank in the US army, drawing her closer still when he returns to America. When officials discover Eisenhower’s plans to divorce from his wife they threaten the fragile but passionate affair, and Kay is forced to take desperate measures to hold onto the man she loves . . .

Based on the scandalous true story of General Eisenhower’s secret World War II love affair, Ike and Kay is a compelling story of love, duty, sacrifice, and heartbreak, set against the backdrop of the most tumultuous period of the twentieth century.

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The Martin McGuinness I Knew by Jude Collins

Martin McGuinness: The Man I Knew
In 'Martin McGuinness, The Man I Knew', Jude Collins offers the reader a range of perspectives on a man who helped shape Ireland's recent history. Those who knew Martin McGuinness during his life talk frankly about him, what he did and said, what sort of man he was. Eileen Paisley speaks of the influence she believes her husband, Ian, had on him; former Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan recounts how the Derry IRA targeted him as a Catholic RUC policeman; peace talks chairman Senator George Mitchell comments on the role he played in talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement; and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams remembers the man who for so many years was his closest colleague. 

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Amalasuintha: The Transformation of Queenship in the Post-Roman World by Massimiliano Vitiello

AmalasuinthaUniversity of Pennsylvania Press:

In this book, Massimiliano Vitiello situates the life and career of the Ostrogothic queen Amalasuintha (c. 494/5-535), daughter of Theoderic the Great, in the context of the transitional time, after the fall of Rome, during which new dynastic regimes were experimenting with various forms of political legitimation. A member of the Gothic elite raised in the Romanized palace of Ravenna, Amalasuintha married her father's chosen successor and was set to become a traditional Gothic queen—a helpmate and advisor to her husband, the Visigothic prince Eutharic—with no formal political role of her own. But her early widowhood and the subsequent death of her father threw her into a position unprecedented in the Gothic world: a regent mother who assumed control of the government.

see also: Women of History - Amalasuntha

Papal Protection and the Crusader: Flanders, Champagne, and the Kingdom of France. 1095-1222 by Danielle Park


On taking the cross, crusaders received a diverse set of privileges designed to appeal to both spiritual and more temporal concerns. Among these was the papal protection granted to them and extended over their families and possessions at home.

This book is the first full length investigation of this protection. It begins by examining the privilege from its inception in around 1095, and its development and consolidation through to 1222. It then moves on to illustrate how this privilege operated in practice through the appointments of regency governments and close communication with both the papacy and local ecclesiastical officials, centring on the rich crusading evidence from Flanders, Champagne and the Kingdom of France. While the protection privilege has been seen as unwieldy and over ambitious, close analysis of particular cases and individuals reveals that not only were regents well aware of their privileged status, but that the papacy could directly intervene when its protection was contravened. 

On the whole, though, Park argues that the crusade regents did an effective job in upholding the rights of the absentee rulers and that this was recognised when the boss returned- for instance very few of their deeds required re-authentification. The job was eased by what look like conscious attempts to clear the books of outstanding issues before the would-be crusader departed. Park also hints that the constraints of crusade regencies may have been a stimulus for developments in bureaucratic governance.

She has undoubtedly identified an important part of what one might define as the backstage mechanics underlying heroic or ghastly deeds in the Holy Land. Hopefully she may in future widen her focus to consider the fate of those unable to call on the services of Ivanhoe to protect their rights.

Olive: Princess of Cumberland - A Royal Scandal by Miles Macnair

This is the gripping story of a truly remarkable woman who claimed in her later life to be a legitimate niece of King George III, by his brother Henry Duke of Cumberland. It is a tale of seduction and corruption, of artists and courtiers, State secrets and court-cases, 'Special Agents' and inconvenient children who were never quite certain who their parents had been. 

Who was Olive Wilmot? The result of four years research and based largely on letters and documents never published before, this book unravels the mysteries of her scandalous life and, in the last chapter, offers some solutions to enigmas that have intrigued historians for nearly 200 years. 

see also: 
Hansard Entry for 14th July 1820 - Petition of Olive Wilmot
Olivia Serres - wikipedia

Informers in 20th Century Ireland by Angela Duffy

The following article was one on a series in this months Crime Writers Association e-newsletter.  The book had sounded like a fascinating read and was firmly placed on my TBR list some time again.  However, I could not help reproducing the article here for those interested in the author's perspective on writing the book.

I didn’t set out to write a book

Angela Duffy
I didn’t set out to write a book. Even the thesis on which Informers in 20th Century Ireland is based was only an excuse to go on being a hyper-mature student, but then I started a whole series of obsessions – all of which are in the book. I bored other postgraduates with stories (but hey! I had to listen to theirs too), which concept is utterly forbidden to the historian, so I called them case studies instead; my writing style, after many years of writing fiction, wasn’t academic; my research methods were unconventional and consisted mostly of talking to people (many of whom are now old and tried friends); and I’m still not sure why Diane, my supervisor, is still speaking to me. Though after each holiday-cum-research trip to Ireland there was always a summoning email so that she could hear about Sean in Ennis who would laugh when he saw me and say “You’re going to get shot, you know!” or the time I was kidnapped, or my exit from the archives in Dublin for a fire drill completely forgetting that I had a large wodge of precious documents under my arm. In addition I wrote the thesis (and therefore the book) backwards.

As for my case studies: they’re full of skulduggery, secrets and mayhem, all of which I like, and there is a more serious side to the book, as there should be. This is history, it really happened, and a great deal of the collusion and torture I have depicted went on in our name – yours and mine. And its effect on me has been to give me a love of research which just won’t go away – I always think of it as panning for gold: sometimes nothing, sometimes just little bits (never to be despised because one of those little bits consisted of two seemingly identical telegrams providing proof positive of one man’s guilt) and the occasional nugget when you want to dance around the archives shouting “Zoweee!”
And Diane’s final verdict: “If I can survive Angela I can survive anything!”

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

A compelling narrative set within the strange and genteel world of rare-book collecting: the true story of an infamous book thief, his victims, and the man determined to catch him.

Rare-book theft is even more widespread than fine-art theft. Most thieves, of course, steal for profit. John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged herself into the world of book lust and discovered just how dangerous it can be.

John Gilkey is an obsessed, unrepentant book thief who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare books from book fairs, stores, and libraries around the country. Ken Sanders is the self-appointed "bibliodick" (book dealer with a penchant for detective work) driven to catch him. Bartlett befriended both outlandish characters and found herself caught in the middle of efforts to recover hidden treasure. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, she has woven this entertaining cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his dirtiest crimes, where he stashed the loot, and how Sanders ultimately caught him but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. 

Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.

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