Sunday, April 28, 2019

Review: Incendium by AD Swanston

Incendium (Christopher Radcliff, #1)
Incendium ... fire and death in the name of piety ...

I love historical mystery fiction - especially when featuring some ell known players such as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Elizabeth’s reign saw a number of plots and rebellions. The plots came from a number of sources: disgruntled nobles; Catholics and from overseas. Plots often had an aim of removing Elizabeth from power and replacing her with Mary, Queen of Scots. Many were motivated by religious belief. Often funded by powerful leaders from overseas, these plots posed a significant risk to Elizabeth’s crown. The best documented of the plots are the Northern Rebellion (1569); Barge Incident; Ridolfi Plot (1571); Throckmorton Plot (1583) and the Babington Plot (1586).

As in reality, there is a plot against the Queen following what was known as the Ridolfi Plot (1571).    There were plots on both sides of the English Channel as Paris prepares for the wedding of Henry of Navarre and Marguerite de Valois (which in itself is just a prelude to the St Bartholomew Day's massacre).  Of course, this doesn't take into account all the petty rivalries and jealousies among her household and court, for which a whispered word here or there could lead to the downfall and execution of a favourite.  Dr Christopher Radcliffe, lawyer and spy for the Earl of Leicester, is given the task of navigating the murky depths of the court to investigate and root out treason and its culprits wherever they may be. But the word "incendium" hints of a new plot against the Queen. 

Image result for map of elizabethan london

Swanston gives us a real feel for Elizabeth London, the "viper's nest", where there are more real life treasonable plots than you could poke a stick at. And just when you think all is resolved, you find yourself only halfway through. Very clever writing.

Review: Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox

Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer
Fox's book is based around a notorious real-life crime of early 20th Century Britain - the Scottish Dreyfus Affair - which consumed Arthur Conan Doyle in the last decades of his life.

It was essentially the murder of a Glasgow widow in 1908 which saw German Jew Oscar Slater accused and imprisoned - an obvious frame up. Slater spent 18 years behind bars, and when released in 1927, the "case for the defence" began in earnest (Slater managed to smuggle a please out of prison to Conan Doyle two years previous).

However, Slater was not the "unimpeachable character" that we would expect but an "affable rascal", who was already known to police. This was not a case of proving who did it rather than who didn't. It was a very real lesson in bigotry versus reason, for Slater proved the perfect patsy for a high profile crime that needed an immediate resolution.

The book is broken down into four parts: the narrative of the murder; the diagnostic methods of ACD's investigation; Slater's trial, conviction and imprisonment; and ACD's meticulous analysis of Slater's case and his liberation.

It is a compelling tale of the evolution of the judicial system in Scotland, and a stark reminder of how the justice system could quite easily make guilty an innocent man as Slater was " ... too guilty to be released yet not guilty enough to be hanged ...". It is also a tale of a very real travesty of justice - regardless of how despicable the man.

Well researched and annotated - a lengthy read.

What I am struck by, is that some time prior, Conan Doyle tried his hand a solving another murder - which was very similar to this one - emphasis on tried, as he never did find resolution. This formed the basis of Sinclair McKay's The Mile End Murder

See also:
The Debatable Case of Mrs Emsley by Arthur Conan Doyle

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Review: Black Death by MJ Trow

Black Death
Synopsis:  September, 1592. “Kit, I know we have never been friends, but you are the only man in London to whom I can write. Someone is trying to kill me”.

Christopher Marlowe had never liked Robert Greene when he was alive. But when the former Cambridge scholar is found dead in a cheap London boarding house, shortly after sending Kit a desperate letter, Marlowe feels duty bound to find out who killed him – and why.

What secrets did Robert Greene take with him to the grave? And why is the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Robert Cecil, taking such a keen interest in the case? As plague stalks the streets of London and the stage manager of the Rose Theatre disappears without trace just days before the opening of Marlowe’s new play, the playwright-sleuth finds himself in the midst of a baffling murder investigation – where nothing is as it first appears.

Another outing in Elizabethan England has Kit Marlowe investigating the death of Robert Greene, one of the first professional writers of the day, and a contemporary of both Marlowe and Shaxsper - the man who referred to the Bard of Avond as an "upstart crow".

Kit receives a message from Greene, no friend of our Kit, asking Marlowe to come to his aid - instead Greene is found dead in mysterious circumstances. In reality, around this time, Greene wrote exposés on the Elizabethan underworld, such as "A Notable Discovery of Coosnage" (1591) and the successful and amusing "A disputation betweene a hee conny-catcher and a shee conny-catcher" (1592).

Against this we have the appearance of the magus Simon Foreman, currently favourite of Elizabeth I, sidelining Dr John Dee, and the disappearance of steadfast Tom Sledd. But London is not only being stalked by a killer but also the Plague, resulting in a closure of the theatres, leaving Kit ample time to investigate.

Marlowe is as witty and irascible as ever; all the usual suspects are present; and red herrings abound.

Review: The Teahouse Detective by Baroness Orczy

Synopsis: All of the twelve detective stories in this volume are puzzled over by Orczy’s mysterious armchair detective, the “Old Man In The Corner”.

The second released in a series by Baroness Orczy, as an alternate to Sherlock Holmes.

Another series of mysteries, this time the narrator is (though not mentioned) out young reporter Polly Burton (though one is never sure - it is just implied).  Another afternoon of classic crime escapism.

The Old Man in the Corner: The Teahouse Detective: Volume 1 (Pushkin Vertigo)
Synopsis: A classic collection of mysteries featuring the Teahouse Detective - a contemporary of Sherlock Holmes, with a brilliant mind and waspish temperament to match that of Conan Doyle's creation.

Simple and entertaining series of stories featuring an old man providing his own commentary on a number of "national" crimes to a young reporter who he meets in a teashop.

An afternoon of escapism, as twelve short mysteries are played out before the reader. It is only a matter of solving them before their final denoument!  Must be read after "The Case of Miss Elliott" even though released first.

Review: Time Travelling Professor by Elizabeth Crowens

Silent Meridian (Time Traveler Professor, #1)
Synopsis: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is obsessed with a legendary red book. Its peculiar stories have come to life, and rumors claim that it has rewritten its own endings. Convinced that possessing this book will help him write his ever-popular Sherlock Holmes stories, he takes on an unlikely partner, John Patrick Scott, known to most as a concert pianist, but a paranormal investigator and a time traveler professor to a select few. Like Holmes and Watson trying to solve a mystery, together they explore lost worlds and their friendship is tested to the limits when they go back in time to find it. Both discover that karmic ties and unconscionable crimes have followed them like ghosts from the past, wreaking havoc on the present and possibly the future.

I found the storytelling very disjointed; I wasn't sure there was any real structure apart from positing the narrator into various historical scenarios strung together on some invisible thread that at various times flirted with past-life regression and astral travel. Too many themes crammed together. that the narrative felt like it was tripping over itself.

I have the second in the series - A Pocketful of Lodestones - and won't be reading or reviewing it anytime soon.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: The Judge's Wife by Ann O'Loughlin

29768256A spellbinding, haunting, heart-wrenching tale told in three narratives - Grace, Emma, and Vikram.

Wicklow 1954: a woman is sent away to an asylum days after giving birth.
Dublin 1984: a woman goes in search of her lost mother.
India 1984: a man looks back on a love lost.

This is a tale of conspiracy, hypocrisy, and passion with a deadly secret binding all together. But it is more than that. It is also a social history of the times, when a man, in this instance a Judge, could put away his wife not for being insane but for a social indiscretion.

In Ireland, the asylums reflected broader society. They were not the creation of doctors or asylum managers. They served a very real social purpose at a time of great change in Ireland, especially in the 1950s which were marked by economic stagnation, world wars, trade wars, religious change, declining population and emigration. The change to the family structure with the growing industrialisation of the country as a whole saw fewer families living off the land, where in the past an individual with a disability, or possibly a mental illness, might find a role. 

But in Ireland, asylums also became a convenient solution for many difficult societal problems, wherein communities and families used mental hospitals in complex and often subtle ways, according to their needs. You only have to look at the fallout from the Magdalene Laundries scandal today, which, for more than two centuries, saw women in Ireland sent to institutions as a punishment for having sex outside of marriage. Unwed mothers, flirtatious women and others deemed unfit for society were forced to labor under the strict supervision of nuns for months or years, sometimes even for life.

By the 1950s, the asylum system had expanded to such an extent that Ireland had the world highest rate of asylum residency per 100,000 population with over 21,000 residents or 0.7% of population (WHO, 1958.) This alarming increase happened within a society who had got used to locking away the undesirables, the non-conformists, the disabled, the perceived immoral. This then is the tragic backdrop to the story of The Judge's Wife.

Mental Treatment Act of 1945 - Brendan O'Kelly

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Review: The Antiquarian - The Art Restorer

Did you ever have that feeling that once you write a review of a book you have just savoured that the euphoric feeling you have just experienced would disappear as soon as the review is written. So you hold off for as long as possible just to hold onto that feeling - this is one of those instances.

Five years ago I read both The Antiquarian and its sequel, The Art Restorer - both stories still vivid in my mind today, but I just had that feeling that if I put pen to paper (figuratively speaking), than I would lose that memory. But the time has come.

The Antiquarian:
A gripping historical thriller in which the search for a mysterious and powerful object hidden in the heart of Barcelona leads to ambition, desire, love—and murder. This story is supposedly based on real events though the author gives us no clue - which is disappointing as I love to follow up with my own research to see how the two parallel.

16146587We meet a circle of antiquarians - Artur Aiquader, Samuel Horowitz, Enric Torner, Guillem Carelus - who collect historical manuscripts. In this instance, Artur comes into possession of the manuscripts dating back to the 14th century belonging to the Casadevall family with links back to a possible hidden treasure. However, Artur is not ready to share what he has found, and he is soon found murdered, obviously at the hands of one who is known to him. A note from Artur to his adoptive son, Enrique sets off the investigation, not only into Artur's death, but also into the mystery of the manuscript, as it is slowed being translated and its contents revealed, transporting the reader back to 14th century Barcelona. 

In the 14th century, Europe had become overpopulated, political frontiers had ceased to expand and internal colonization was coming to an end, but population levels remained high. Europe was experiencing a period of climate change which resulted in famine and pestilence, economies took a hit, prices of basic food stuffs rose, and Barcelona, like many other cities, was struck by several outbreaks of the plague.

Social upheaval followed the widespread deaths. Whole families died without heirs, leaving their farms abandoned, and looters and nobles were quick to take advantage; the latter seizing any property unclaimed after 30 days. The result of this abuse and the increased value of labour was a series of peasant uprisings which continued for many years, part of a long struggle of working people against the upper classes.

Turning on others, especially marginal members of society, was a common response during the trauma of the Black Death. Jews, especially, were attacked and killed throughout Europe - and Barcelona was no exception. The violence committed against Jews in the city led to the end of the Jewish neighbourhood, El Call, and foreshadowed greater and more intensified persecutions of Jews, including the Inquisition. 

Enrique, with the help of Bety, investigate who within Artur's inner circle could have motive. And there is the shadowy figure of the mysterious Frenchman. Against this historical backdrop, that the last few climatic chapters finally enlighten us, and draws this modern day story to its conclusion.

The Art Restorer:
This sequel sees novelist Enrique Alonso return to Barcelona to attend the reopening of the San Telmo Museum and to catch up with his ex-wife, Bety, now the PR manager. However, it is when art restorer Craig Bruckner is found dead, that Bety suspects foul play and enlists the aid of Enrique to find out what really happened.

22611387Bruckner's death, and his focus on the works and life of the artist Sert, become the basis for Enriques new novel (set in the 1940s). The past comes back to haunt Enrique is the murder of his adoptive father Artur three years prior still casts a long shadow.

Josep Maria Sert i Badia was a catalan artist, who after studying in Rome, moved to Paris (1899). Sert was commissioned to paint the interior of the Vic Cathedral in the Province of Barcelona, Catalonia in murals (1900), which took him more than 30 years to complete. After this, he also undertook commissions for the Rockerfeller family in the United States (1930s). He was linked with two notable women - Misia Godebska (d.1950) and Isabelle Roussadana Mdivani (d.1938) - who were prominent in the Parisian cultural scene (alog=ng with the likes of Chanel, Cartier, Cocteau, Diaghilev). 

Enrique decided to follow in Bruckners footsteps to unravel the mystery of Sert and discover who killed the art restorer and why. The mystery hinges on events in the past, this time, Paris during WW2 when the painter brokered the release of a girl from a concentration camp with a Nazi official - the payment being made in diamonds.

What is glaringly omitted from what little I could find on Sert online, was his life in the 1940s in Paris. Was he in Paris during the war or back in Barcelona where he died (1945).

Essentially this is a well crafted novel with three stories running parallel - the main story; the story of the fictional novelsist; and the backstory to it all, the life of Sert.

Review: Judas the Apostle - The Last Sicarius

Judas the Apostle
Judas the Apostle by Van R. Mayhall Jr.
A modern day biblical thriller featuring archaeologist Clothilde Le Jenue, who, after the murder of her father, finds herself in possession of a mysterious jar with the inscription "Judas Isacriot".

Judas is often remembered as the apostle who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. However, the discovery of the Gospel of Judas in the 1970s sheds a new light on Judas. The gospel offers a much more sympathetic character, a favoured apostle to whom Jesus says: “You will be cursed by the other generations – and you will come to rule over them.” Despite the centuries of denunciation, the biblical text itself is more ambiguous than we might expect, too. It isn’t clear if Judas is a thief who betrays Jesus or if he is a true disciple, who is a central agent in the fulfilment of God’s plan and does the dirty work that the other disciples won’t do. 

In Muslim polemic literature, however, Judas ceases to be a traitor; instead, he supposedly lied to the Jews in order to defend Jesus (who was not crucified). The 14th-century cosmographer al-Dimashqī maintains that Judas assumed Jesus’ likeness and was crucified in his place. Even then, there was much ambiguity about Judas and his position within the Disciple hierarchy.

Our story fluctuates between Jerusalem and Masada in 73AD to present day Louisiana and Jerusalem, as the mysterious artifact is sought after by not only the Vatican, but by one, less scrupulous, other.   You must read "The Last Sicarius" straight away as this continues where this tome leave off.

The Last Sicarius
The Last Sicarius by Van R. Mayhall Jr.
I am really glad that I read this straight after "Judas the Apostle" as the second volume kicks off straight away from where the first finished. Non-stop action. Forget comparisons with other books of the genre (ie: Da Vinci Code, etc), these two stand alone for "edge of your seat" drama and intrigue as we set out on a quest to discover the true meaning of the Judas Gospel.

The Gospel of Judas is known to have existed before AD180, when it was denounced as heretical by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon. But it was thought to have been lost when the gnostics were vanquished in the struggle of ideas in the early years of Christianity. The manuscript also serves as a reminder that the four gospels in the New Testament were not the only versions of Jesus's life in the early Christian era.  Judas is often said to have been a member of the Sicari, an extremist religious sect who strongly opposed the Roman occupation, however modern scholars reject this claim based upon the writings of the Josephus in The War of the Hebrews.

As I said, this follows hot on the heels of the first book, as a new enemy and a new adventure await.  And the final battle ... it takes places where it all began ....Masada!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Founder, Fighter, Saxon Queen by Margaret C Jones

Founder, Fighter, Saxon QueenAlfred the Great’s daughter defied all expectations of a well-bred Saxon princess. The first Saxon woman ever to rule a kingdom, Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, led her army in battle against Viking invaders. She further broke with convention by arranging for her daughter to succeed her on the throne of Mercia. 

To protect her people and enable her kingdom in the Midlands to prosper, Aethelflaed rebuilt Chester and Gloucester, and built seven entirely new English towns. In so doing she helped shape our world today.

This book brings Aethelflaed’s world to life, from her childhood in time of war to her remarkable work as ruler of Mercia.

The final chapter traces her legend, from medieval paintings to novels and contemporary art, illustrating the impact of a legacy that continues to be felt to this day.

The Girl Empress by Amy Mantravadi

The Girl Empress coverThe history books remember her as Empress Mathilda, but her path to sovereignty began when she was just a girl named Maud. Engaged, estranged, and crowned by the age of twelve, this is her story . . .

As the firstborn legitimate child of King Henry I of England, Princess Maud is faced with the fiercest crisis of her eight-year-old life when she learns that she will be sent to Germany to marry the Holy Roman Emperor. To make matters worse, her husband-to-be is in the midst of a disagreement with the Pope, and the threat of civil war continuously rages. Thrust into the middle of the greatest political controversy in Europe, Maud must learn to navigate the turbulent political waters while also managing her own transition from girl to woman.

Students of history will know the ending: Maud will successfully become Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, Queen of Germany, Queen of Italy, and the sole legitimate heir to the English throne. But The Girl Empress invites readers to join Maud on the journey of a lifetime, experiencing the depths of her hopes and dreams, her anxieties and strengths, her successes and failures. The history books haven’t done her justice.

Scotland Yard Casebook by Joan Lock

Scotland Yard Casebook by [Lock, Joan]In 1878 the Criminal Investigation Department replaced Scotland Yard's corrupt and discredited Detective Branch.

In this classic story of the early days of detection, Joan Lock tells the fascinating story of the creation of the CID, the scandal which preceded it, and the successes and failures of the new organization, including early cases such as the four murders by Ernest Southey, the ferocious outbreak of dockland killings in 1869 and the more familiar Bravo, Neill Cream and Jack the Ripper crimes.

She describes Scotland Yard's gradual, if sometimes tardy, acceptance of identification and communication aids such as photography, the telegraph, telephone, Bertillon's anthropometric measurements and the fingerprint system.

First World War spy and Dear John jealousy murders were followed by Roaring Twenties' swindles and the arrival of motor car bandits — which in turn led to the formation of the Flying Squad and the adoption of mobile wireless telegraphy. 

The introduction of women detectives is also discussed and the difficulties they experienced in establishing their place in a male dominated force.

Joan Lock closes the gap between the academic police historian and the writer of popular true crime, making this book a fascinating read for crime experts and the general reader alike.

The Trials of Five Queens by R. Storry Deans

The Trials of Five Queens: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette, and Caroline of Brunswick by [Deans, R. Storry]Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette, and Caroline of Brunswick - R. Storry Deans shows in this far-encompassing and illuminating work, these five queens were less than happy and fortunate.  Connected across three countries and three centuries by their treatment and trials, Deans paints vivid portraits of the five women with the help of private letters and court transcripts that surrounded each trial.

With intimate details of the hearings that awaited them, The Trials of Five Queens recounts an informative and entertaining history of murder, adultery, divorce and revolution centred around royal women under intense scrutiny. Both a five-part biography of the queens as well as a study of the revered yet secretive and tumultuous institutions to which they belonged.

Dance If Ye Can: A Dictionary of Scottish Battles by Malcolm Archibald

Dance If Ye Can: A Dictionary of Scottish Battles by [Archibald, Malcolm]Dance If Ye Can is an introduction to the huge variety of battles fought in Scotland, or fought by the Scots in the nearly nine hundred years when they were an independent nation.

The first part of the book serves as an introduction to Scottish history, while the second section portrays the Scottish soldier throughout history. Part three gives an alphabetical guide and brief notes of the many hundred battles, skirmishes and sieges that pepper the history of Scotland.

Unlike most battle books, Dance If Ye Can does not concentrate solely on the well-known battles. Rather, it gives space to many of the near-forgotten skirmishes and clan battles, as well as the more famous encounters such as Bannockburn and Culloden. 

The earliest battles concern the Roman invasion of 83 AD, while the last was the German attack on the Royal Navy in the Firth of Forth in 1939. In between are mentions of the wars against the Norse and the English, with various civil wars and disturbances, the Jacobite Risings and the clan wars of the Borders and Highlands.

The final section is a timeline of Scottish history that brings the book to the post-devolution period in the twenty-first century.

No Limits to Their Sway by Edgardo Perez Morales

No Limits to Their Sway: Cartagena's Privateers and the Masterless Caribbean in the Age of Revolutions by Edgardo Perez Morales offers a fresh perspective on a Revolutionary era, focusing on the role of Afro-Caribbean privateers in the struggle for South American independence from Spain Following the 1808 French invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, an unprecedented political crisis threw the Spanish Monarchy into turmoil. 

On the Caribbean coast of modern-day Colombia, the important port town of Cartagena rejected Spanish authority, finally declaring independence in 1811. With new leadership that included free people of color, Cartagena welcomed merchants, revolutionaries, and adventurers from Venezuela, the Antilles, the United States, and Europe. Most importantly, independent Cartagena opened its doors to privateers of color from the French Caribbean. Hired mercenaries of the sea, privateers defended Cartagena's claim to sovereignty, attacking Spanish ships and seizing Spanish property, especially near Cuba, and establishing vibrant maritime connections with Haiti. 

Most of Cartagena's privateers were people of color and descendants of slaves who benefited from the relative freedom and flexibility of life at sea, but also faced kidnapping, enslavement, and brutality. Many came from Haiti and Guadeloupe; some had been directly involved in the Haitian Revolution. While their manpower proved crucial in the early Anti-Spanish struggles, Afro-Caribbean privateers were also perceived as a threat, suspected of holding questionable loyalties, disorderly tendencies, and too strong a commitment to political and social privileges for people of color. 

Based on handwritten and printed sources in Spanish, English, and French, this book tells the story of Cartagena's multinational and multicultural seafarers, revealing the Trans-Atlantic and maritime dimensions of South American independence.

Falconland: The Story of Frederick II by Reggie Connell

Falconland: The Story of Frederick II: A Novel of Medieval Historical Fiction by [Connell, Reggie]
Falconland chronicles the events of King Frederick’s life by transporting readers to medieval Europe in the 12th century. It is a time when church, king and emperor struggle for power, highborn families fight for control of lands, and a dark force is rising in the Vatican.

It is a character-rich story that takes you into the minds of these fascinating medieval characters – both historical and fictional.

It begins in the quiet town of Jesi; tucked away in the foothills of northeastern Italy near the Adriatic Sea. It is December 26th, 1194AD.

In the distance, a weather-beaten carriage and a legion of knights are nearing the town’s gate. The carriage is carrying Queen Constance of Sicily. The queen is pregnant, and will be unable to make it to her palace before the birth of her baby. Because of her advanced age, she has decided to have the delivery in public view…so that no one can challenge his royal claims.

It concludes with a teenage boy overcoming enormous tragedy, and taking on a pope and an emperor to claim the crowns they took from him when he was a child. Falconland will have you cheering for Frederick II from page one until its conclusion.

John Broughton's Dark Age Novels

Saints & Sinners:

Saints and Sinners (Mixed Blessings Book 1) by [Broughton, John]Saxon times are not called the Dark Ages for nothing. It is a violent, unrecognisable world of kill or be killed …  In seventh century England, tribes and so-called kings vie for power and blood flows freely throughout the land.  Aethelred, ruler of Mercia, is being pressed from all sides – north, south, east and west. And his wife, Osthryth, daughter of a rival Northumbrian king, is murdered in unknown circumstances.  Osthryth’s ring falls into the hands of warrior noble Aethelbald who is accused of her murder and forced to leave Mercia by his conniving cousin Coeolred who has eyes on the throne. 

Mixed Blessings:
Mierce, the English Midlands, 8th Century A.D.   Æthelbald, King of Mierce, is a man of ambition. Having created much-needed stability within his domain, he now aspires to the taking of surrounding kingdoms to expand and fortify his own. With stealth and cunning, Æthelbald manipulates other men of power, like chess pieces, to achieve his goals.

As Æthelbald’s reign grows and strengthens, so too does the authority of the church, whose leverage over monarchical matters becomes increasingly overbearing. The church does not approve of King Æthelbald’s exploits with innocent women and seeks to bring him into line with the threat of eternal damnation.  This, the sequel to Saints and Sinners, chronicles the life of an English king in the days where the boundaries of kingdoms and social propriety were undergoing rapid change.

Perfecta Saxonia:
King Alfred never achieved his dream of uniting the disparate Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into one Perfecta Saxonia.  The man destined to fulfill Alfred's dream is his grandson, Athelstan, as the spark of unity begins in the Saxon kingdom of Wessex. Abandoned by his father and raised by his uncle, young Athelstan faces numerous adversities on his way to becoming a mighty warrior and diplomat.  But can he overcome the odds to transform England from an insignificant island off the Western European mainland, into the leading centre of tenth-century diplomacy and learning?

Wyrd of the Wolf:
In seventh century England, political and religious upheaval mean that nobody is safe.   As the old gods are eroded by the new church, and tribes and ambitious men vie for power, property and precedence, blood is shed throughout the land.  In the south, ealdorman Aelfhere believes that for his only child, sixteen-year-old daughter Cynethryth, marriage to a Saxon king is the way to security. And so, somewhat against her own wishes, Cynethryth is betrothed. Yet as battle rages around her, and with her betrothed away to fight, Cynethryth too becomes a victim of war. 

In the Name of the Mother:
It is 689 AD, and Cynethryth is returning from Rome, carrying her dead husband's child.  She soon gives birth to a son, Aethelheard, whose parentage alone places him in danger. His mother has a tough choice to make and travels to Dorset, where the king is a cousin of her late husband.  After the king adopts the boy, he grows up in the dangerous company of rebellious princes, all who wish to overthrow the mighty Ine, king of Wessex.

The Purple Thread:
It is 733 AD in Anglo-Saxon Britain – a time and a world of warriors, wars and religious extremes.  Begiloc, a young freedman from Wimborne with a wife and son, is most definitely a man of action. But his world is turned upside down when the young Briton and best friend Meryn are ordered away to protect English missionaries in Germany.  For a man accustomed to brutality, Begiloc has a soft spot for the purple-tinged mountains, waterfalls, lakes, animals, trees and flowers – beginning to muse whether they, rather than Man, do not better embody the essence of God.  However, mission follows mission across the continent and Begiloc is driven ever further from his loved ones at home.

Die for a Dove:
Invasion, 674 AD and Werburgh, great-niece of the Abbess of Ely travels by night to bury and save the abbey treasure under a wayside cross in the kingdom of Lindsey.  Werburgh has crafted a magnificent gold and garnet jewel in the form of a dove. A cryptic inscription on the back indicates the location of the treasure. The dove becomes a family heirloom and only resurfaces in the English Civil War.  The reappearance of a cryptic clue to the whereabouts of the forgotten dove leads to a hunt across two continents and a trail of deaths.

Ulf's Tale by [Broughton, John]Ulf's Tale:
A Swedish nobleman. A kidnapped child. The choice between power and morality.  At the start of the slaughter-marred eleventh-century, nine-year-old Ulf is taken hostage by King Aethelred.  It’s the beginning of a life of luxury and opportunity for Ulf. But treachery and plotting throughout the country threaten uneasy alliances, while ambitious rivals attempt to seize power for themselves.  His own life threatened, Ulf embarks on a quest for unity to bring peace to the Baltic states. Will his own moral convictions be enough to overcome divided loyalties, religious clashes and ambitious kings?

The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton

If you asked the average American to name a CIA agent, he or she would probably go blank. One might list one of the Watergate burglars: E. Howard Hunt, James McCord or Gordon Liddy. A few new junkies might be able to name the current CIA Director, Dan Coats or his predecessor, Mike Pompeo (now secretary of state). 

Almost no one, however, would be able to identify James Jesus Angleton, despite his key role as leader of the agency’s head of counter-intelligence (CI) operations during the height of the Cold War. Angleton had a profound impact on the agency’s operating procedures during its formative years. A fervent anti-Communist, he was obsessed by the KGB and (he falsely believed) its constant attempts to plant agents in the CIA. Operating without hard evidence, he wrongly accused many CIA colleagues of disloyalty and ruined dozens of careers. 

The Ghost, a new biography of Angleton by Jefferson Morley, a Washington journalist, provides an intriguing look at this powerful, enigmatic Cold Warrior. He earned the nickname “the Ghost” because he was rarely seen outside his high-security office, yet had a major impact on the agency’s strategy and tactics. 

read more from James Thornton Harris @ History News Network

Saturday, April 6, 2019

This Violent, Convoluted Murder Mystery Has Been Published in 30 Countries

From RealClearLife

Chapter One: Swedish author Niklas Natt och Dag takes readers back in time for a thrilling whodunnit.

Drunken “watchman” Mikel Cardell is unceremoniously roused from his mid-afternoon slumber on a fall day in 1793 by a group of kids who’ve spotted a body floating in the Larder, a symbolically decrepit lake on Stockholm’s Southern Isle. The gruesomely torn apart corpse that Cardell fishes out forces him to connect with “incorruptible lawyer,” Cecil Winge, perhaps the only person in Sweden who sees value left in Cardell, setting up the adventure the pair will embark upon in author Niklas Natt och Dag’s The Wolf and the Watchman. The book is a race against time from that point on as Winge’s failing health puts an expiration date on their investigation, one that draws them into the underbelly of a crumbling and corrupt monarchy that rules over a paranoid nation divided by money and defined by greed.

chapter one
read interview with Niklas Natt och Dag here @ RealClearLife

Pierre de L'Estoile and his World in the Wars of Religion - Tom Hamilton

CoverThe Wars of Religion embroiled France in decades of faction, violence, and peacemaking in the late sixteenth century. When historians interpret these events they inevitably depend on sources of information gathered by contemporaries, none more valuable than the diaries and collection of Pierre de L'Estoile (1546-1611), who lived through the civil wars in Paris and shaped how they have been remembered ever since. Taking him out of the footnotes, and demonstrating his significance in the culture of the late Renaissance, this is the first life of L'Estoile in any language. It examines how he negotiated and commemorated the conflicts that divided France as he assembled an extraordinary collection of the relics of the troubles, a collection that he called 'the storehouse of my curiosities'. The story of his life and times is the history of the civil wars in the making. 

Focusing on a crucial individual for understanding Reformation Europe, this study challenges historians' assumptions about the widespread impact of confessional conflict in the sixteenth century. L'Estoile's prudent, non-confessional responses to the events he lived through and recorded were common among his milieu of Gallican Catholics. His life-writing and engagement with contemporary news, books, and pictures reveals how individuals used different genres and media to destabilise rather than fix confessional identities. Bringing together the great variety of topics in society and culture that attracted L'Estoile's curiosity, this volume rethinks his world in the Wars of Religion.

Hernando Colon - The man who tried to read all the books in the world

129,864,880. That’s the number of books in the world, according to an estimate by Google Books, which since its launch in 2005 has been trying to scan them all, convert them to searchable text using optical character recognition and then make them publicly available online. Although Google Books’ hopes have been slowed by wrangles over copyright and fair use, if it succeeds it could become the largest online body of human knowledge ever available.

Half a millennium earlier in Seville, Spain, Hernando Colón (1488–1539) had the same ambitious aim: to create a library that would be universal in a way never before imagined because it would contain everything. And Colón really did try to collect everything: from precious manuscripts to books by unknown authors, from flimsy pamphlets to tavern posters, from weighty tomes to throwaway ephemera.

Colón’s bibliomania took him back and forth across Europe for three decades. According to Dr Edward Wilson-Lee, from Cambridge's Sidney Sussex College and the Faculty of English, he bought 700 books in Nuremburg over Christmas in 1521, before passing on to Mainz where he bought a thousand more in the course of a month. In a single year in 1530, he visited Rome, Bologna, Modena, Parma, Turin, Milan, Venice, Padua, Innsbruck, Augsburg, Constance, Basle, Fribourg, Cologne, Maastricht, Antwerp, Paris, Poitiers and Burgos, voraciously buying all he could lay his hands on.

Today, just over 3,000 books of Colón’s library remain. Until now, the life of this extraordinary man has largely escaped notice; it’s taken another revolution to grasp how visionary he was in recognising the power of tools to order the world of information.

read more from University of Cambridge

Simon V of Montfort and Baronial Government, 1195-1218 - G.E.M. Lippiatt

CoverDissenter from the Fourth Crusade, disseised earl of Leicester, leader of the Albigensian Crusade, prince of southern France: Simon of Montfort led a remarkable career of ascent from mid-level French baron to semi-independent count before his violent death before the walls of Toulouse in 1218. Through the vehicle of the crusade, Simon cultivated autonomous power in the liminal space between competing royal lordships in southern France in order to build his own principality. 

This first English biographical study of his life examines the ways in which Simon succeeded and failed in developing this independence in France, England, the Midi, and on campaign to Jerusalem. Simon's familial, social, and intellectual connexions shaped his conceptions of political order, which he then implemented in his conquests. By analysing contemporary narrative, scholastic, and documentary evidence-including a wealth of archival material-this volume argues that Simon's career demonstrates the vitality of baronial independence in the High Middle Ages, despite the emergence of centralised royal bureaucracies. More importantly, Simon's experience shows that barons themselves adopted methods of government that reflected a concern for accountability, public order, and contemporary reform ideals. 

This study therefore marks an important entry in the debate about baronial responsibility in medieval political development, as well as providing the most complete modern account of the life of this important but oft-overlooked crusader.

Behind the Lawrence Legend - Philip Walker

From Oxford University Press:
CoverT. E. Lawrence became world-famous as 'Lawrence of Arabia', after helping Sherif Hussein of Mecca gain independence from Turkey during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18. His achievements, however, would have been impossible without the unsung efforts of a forgotten band of fellow officers and spies. This groundbreaking account by Philip Walker interweaves the compelling stories of Colonel Cyril Wilson and a colourful supporting cast with the narrative of Lawrence and the desert campaign. These men's lost tales provide a remarkable and fresh perspective on Lawrence and the Arab Revolt.

While Lawrence and others blew up trains in the desert, Wilson and his men carried out their shadowy intelligence and diplomatic work. His deputies rooted out anti-British jihadists who were trying to sabotage the revolt. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Lionel Gray, a cipher officer, provided a gateway into unknown aspects of the revolt through his previously unpublished photographs and eyewitness writings. Wilson's crucial influence underpinned all these missions and steadied the revolt on a number of occasions when it could have collapsed. Without Wilson and his circle there would have been no 'Lawrence of Arabia'.

Yet Wilson's band mostly fell through the cracks of history into obscurity. "Behind the Lawrence Legend" reveals their vital impact and puts Lawrence's efforts into context, thus helping to set the record straight for one of the most beguiling and iconic characters of the twentieth century.