Sunday, June 30, 2019

Li Du Series by Elsa Hart

The first book written by Elsa Hart as a part of the Li Du series is titled as ‘Jade Dragon Mountain’. The Minotaur publication published this book in the year 2015. In the initial sequence of the book, author Elsa has introduced Li Du as an imperial librarian. He gets exiled and moves to Dayan, which is situated on the border of Tibet and China. When he reaches, he gets surprised by seeing the visiting travelers, merchants, and soldiers. All of them seem to have arrived there to witness the solar eclipse that was commanded by the rich emperor. Soon, the situation turns into an ugly shock when an astronomer gets murdered in a local magistrate’s home. Immediately, the blame is placed on the bandits of Tibet. However, Li Du does not see it as a random killing. Later, his investigations allow him to learn that everyone in the city is keeping secrets, including the bitter servant, powerful consort, merchants of the East India Company, the storyteller, the magistrate, and the missionary. Li Du sees the mountain pass beyond the festival banners and sloping roofs. Through that pass, he can move out of China, but he must first decide whether to stay or leave. If he stays, he can investigate the matter in a more proper way and help solve the murder mystery that Lijiang seems to be very much willing to let go unsolved.

The next book written by Elsa is titled as ‘The White Mirror’. It was published in 2016. Author Elsa begins this book by showing that Li Du has become an independent traveler. Along with one of the trade caravans, he journeys to Lhasa. But instead, he gets taken to a valley located between mountains. Li Du sees an old monk sitting in contemplation on a woode bridge. When he takes a closer, he finds that the monk is dead. At first, it appears that he had died due to self-inflicted wounds. Li Du discovers a strange symbol imprinted on the monk’s chest. Soon, stormy begins to fall and the caravan is forced to take shelter at a local lord. While waiting patiently for the passing of the storm, Li Du discovers that the monk was a skillful painter. The family of the local lord tells him that the death of the monk was not a surprise because he was quite obsessed with the worldly demon. But, Li Du feels that things are not as they seem to be. He gets to experience a few strange things during his travel to the valley, which make his belief even more suspicious. Due to the unhealthy climate, secretive surrounding, and the unexplained grief haunting the manor, Li Du is not able to leave the things that he wants to forget behind. Eventually, he goes on to establish the fact that the monk was murdered and finds the person responsible for it.

The third book in the series is "City of Ink". Li Du was prepared to travel anywhere in the world except for one place: home. But to unravel the mystery that surrounds his mentor’s execution, that’s exactly where he must go.  Plunged into the painful memories and teeming streets of Beijing, Li Du obtains a humble clerkship that offers anonymity and access to the records he needs. He is beginning to make progress when his search for answers buried in the past is interrupted by murder in the present.  The wife of a local factory owner is found dead, along with a man who appears to have been her lover, and the most likely suspect is the husband. But what Li Du’s superiors at the North Borough Office are willing to accept as a crime of passion strikes Li Du as something more calculated. As past and present intertwine, Li Du’s investigations reveal that many of Beijing’s residents — foreign and Chinese, artisan and official, scholar and soldier — have secrets they would kill to protect.  When the threats begin, Li Du must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice to discover the truth in a city bent on concealing it, a city where the stroke of a brush on paper can alter the past, change the future, prolong a life, or end one.

Season of Sacirfice by Bharti Kirchner

Introducing feisty Asian-American private investigator Maya Mallick in the first of an intriguing new mystery series. 

During a morning stroll in Seattle’s Green Lake district, Maya Mallick is horrified to see two young women, shrouded in white, set themselves ablaze in front of the temporary residence of the visiting Chinese foreign minister. She’s even more shocked to recognize one of them: Sylvie Burton, a brilliant Tibetan-American biomedical scientist, who is the adopted sister of Maya’s best friend. 

An onlooker informs her that the two women are martyrs, protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Yet Maya has a nagging suspicion that all is not as it seems. One of the policemen on the scene is Detective Justin Stevenson, a former lover who dumped Maya just when she expected a proposal of marriage. Her attempts to speak to him about the case are rebuffed, and she’s upset to hear that he has a girlfriend and a son old enough to have been conceived while he was still dating Maya. Sylvie was working on a vaccine to prevent malaria, and the other woman who died had taken part in a clinical trial to test it. 

No one on the scene did anything to stop the women, but one man who was there hires Maya to look into the deaths. With the help of her assistant, she digs up more information on the drug trial and finds out from a prickly Veen that Sylvie had been dating Ivan Dunn, a Russian whose reputation, especially with women, is unsavory. Chasing down clues leads her into trouble, but she refuses to give up.

As Maya gets closer to the shocking truth, she finds her own life on the line.

Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French

The Synopsis:
Image result for dublin murder squadSet in the heart of Dublin is the Murder Squad; an elite unit working within the police-force to solve the cities most toughest crimes. Dark and moody, Tana French has created a gritty world filled with realistic stakes and consequences. Each novel operates as an intricate character study of those on the force, individually revolving around a different member of Dublin’s prestigious Murder Squad. Taking on different cases they must deal with their own feelings to their given investigations over the course of the novel. Whilst each book deals with a separate case, it allows the central investigator to offer their own unique take on the proceedings. What this then enables French to do is to tackle the Dublin crime scene from a variety of different angles. Given her background in acting as well, this allows her to go even further into the motivations and mindsets of her protagonists, providing this well-rounded and well-received series of novels.

Book 1: Into The Woods
One night a young twelve year-old named Adam wanders into the woods with his two closest friends after a day out playing, but only Adam returns alone. Despite a search from the entire local community, they are never to be found again as they discover Adam by himself shivering from the cold. There are signs of a struggle nearby and it appears Adam has been in some sort of fight, but he’s too distraught to relate any of the events that took place, them having been wiped from his memory.

Moving forwards twenty years, Adam now goes by his middle name Rob, as he finds himself a detective on the infamous Dublin Murder Squad. Rob and his partner, Cassie Maddox, have been given the case of a murdered twelve year-old girl, Katy Devlin, which they have to solve. The difference with this case though, is the similarities it bares to Rob’s own traumatic past. Cassie knows this, as the two of them are extremely close yet not romantically involved, although many others believe they are.

At first it appears that Katy’s death is linked to the motorway protests that her father participated in, along with the possibility that there might have been a case of abuse happening within her family. It also soon transpires that there could be a physical link to Rob’s previous event in the form of a hair-clip found at the crime scene. The clip belonged to one of his friends.

It is then that Rob must try to remember what happened that night when he was lost in the woods. He undertakes a series of measures in which he tries to jog his memory, but it quickly starts to take its toll as he begins to suffer from nightmares and flashbacks. Meanwhile his relationship with Cassie begins to feel the strain as the two of them find difficulty maintaining their bond. Can they reform their broken bonds? Will a romance happen? What of the murder and Rob’s own traumatic past? Will they be able to solve the case whilst Rob manages to retain his sanity in the face of everything?

Book 2: The Likeness
Focusing this time on the protagonist Cassie Maddox and her case, this novel takes place six months after the previous one in the fallout of the events and a new investigation. Whilst she hopes to break away she’s pulled back in when the Detective Sam O’ Neill calls her back to investigate a murdered woman. The thing is, this case happens to be different due the victims appearance being similar to that of Cassie's. That’s not the only thing though, as her ID tag found goes by the same name that Cassie used to use when she was operating undercover.

This provides Cassie with the perfect chance to go undercover in her place once again with the story that the killing never took place as the stab wounds weren’t found to be fatal. Cassie maybe reluctant to this idea initially, but it’s her boss Frank Mackey who eagerly pushes it all forwards. The appeal of going back undercover once more proves to be too strong though, as Cassie can potentially take up the role of the murdered graduate student. Over time this proves to be fraught with danger, as the role she undertakes is shrouded in secrets and lies, as she immerses herself into the world of one Lexie.

The house where the students reside has a feud that’s been going on for generations and, to add to that, Cassie is getting an emotional attachment to the case that might prove to be problematic. Frank notices this and starts to become concerned for her well-being as he realizes she could potentially jeopardize the entire case. Will they find out her true identity? Can she solve the case whilst keeping out of harm’s way? Just what is the truth behind this mysterious turn of events underway?

Image result for dublin murder squadBook 3: Faithful Place
The course of Frank Mackey's life was set by one defining moment when he was nineteen. The moment his girlfriend, Rosie Daly, failed to turn up for their rendezvous in Faithful Place, failed to run away with him to London as they had planned. Frank never heard from her again. Twenty years on, Frank is still in Dublin, working as an undercover cop. He's cut all ties with his dysfunctional family. Until his sister calls to say that Rosie's suitcase has been found. Frank embarks on a journey into his past that demands he reevaluate everything he believes to be true.

Book 4: Broken Harbour
In a ghostly estate outside Dublin - half-built, half-inhabited, half-abandoned - two children and their father are dead. The mother is on her way to intensive care. Scorcher Kennedy is given the case because he is the Murder Squad's star detective. At first he and his rookie partner, Richie, think this is a simple one: Pat Spain was a casualty of the recession, so he killed his children, tried to kill his wife Jenny, and finished off with himself. But there are too many inexplicable details and the evidence is pointing in two directions at once.

Scorcher's personal life is tugging for his attention. Seeing the case on the news has sent his sister Dina off the rails again, and she's resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family, one summer at Broken Harbour, back when they were children. The neat compartments of his life are breaking down, and the sudden tangle of work and family is putting both at risk . . 

Book 5: The Secret Place
Detective Stephen Moran hasn't seen Holly Mackey since she was a nine-year-old witness to the events of Faithful Place. Now she's sixteen and she's shown up outside his squad room, with a photograph and a story.

Even in her exclusive boarding school, in the graceful golden world that Stephen has always longed for, bad things happen and people have secrets. The previous year, Christopher Harper, from the neighbouring boys' school, was found murdered on the grounds. And today, in the Secret Place - the school noticeboard where girls can pin up their secrets anonymously - Holly found the card.

Solving this case could take Stephen onto the Murder squad. But to get it solved, he will have to work with Detective Antoinette Conway - tough, prickly, an outsider, everything Stephen doesn't want in a partner. And he will have to find a way into the strange, charged, mysterious world that Holly and her three closest friends inhabit and disentangle the truth from their knot of secrets, even as he starts to suspect that the truth might be something he doesn't want to hear.

Image result for dublin murder squadBook 6: The Trespasser
Being on the Murder Squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she’s getting close to the breaking point. 

Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers’ quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blond, pretty, groomed-to-a-shine, and dead in her catalog-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner. There’s nothing unusual about her—except that Antoinette’s seen her somewhere before.

And that her death won’t stay in its neat by-numbers box. Other detectives are trying to push Antoinette and Steve into arresting Aislinn’s boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy figure at the end of Antoinetteʼs road. Aislinnʼs friend is hinting that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And everything they find out about Aislinn takes her further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be.

Antoinette knows the harassment has turned her paranoid, but she can’t tell just how far gone she is. Is this case another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?

The Dublin Murder Squad Series - The Adapation
The eight-part television series entitled Dublin Murders is being adapted by American premium cable channel Starz, Irish broadcaster RTE, and UK broadcaster BBC One.

In French’s book series, each of the eight books is led by a different detective from within the same murder investigation team. The television adaptation is said to be a blending of French’s first two books in the series, In the Woods and Likeness.

Killian Scott and Sarah Greene will star in Dublin Murders
Killian Scott, who shot to fame for his portrayal in RTE’s drama Love/Hate, is playing the lead Rob Reilly. Sarah Greene, who starred in Rosie and Penny Dreadful, also stars as detective Cassie Maddox.

“This series, set during the height of the Celtic Tiger financial boom of the millennium, will focus on two murder investigations led by ambitious and charismatic Detectives Rob Reilly and Cassie Maddox.”

“The victims - a young talented ballerina who is found dead on an ancient stone altar; and a vivacious free-spirited woman, who is found stabbed in a roofless famine cottage - are seemingly unrelated, but as we will discover, are actually knitted together by powerful shared themes - the macabre ‘red in tooth and claw’ elements of both stories, and their heart-thumping psychological thriller qualities.”

Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht said: "This series is brilliantly adapted by Sarah Phelps, who in blending the first two novels has constructed a complex and enigmatic world for this suspense-filled drama.”

read more here @ The New Yorker

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Samurai Text Tells Secrets of Sword-Fighters' 'Supernatural Powers'

Image result for the twelve rules of the swordFrom Live Science

A newly translated samurai text called "Twelve Rules of the Sword" reveals the secrets of a sword-fighting school that mastered a technique that seemed to give supernatural powers.

Dating back to the 17th century, the text contains knowledge passed down from a samurai named Itō Ittōsai (born around 1560), who fought and won 33 duels in Japan. Researchers aren't sure when he died, but historical records suggest he may have lived to be over age 90. Ittōsai never wrote down his "Twelve Rules of the Sword," and instead passed them on orally to his students at the One Cut sword-fighting school. The descendants of his students later recorded them in writing.

The text describes rules for beating an opponent as well as two magical prayers to enhance a samurai's spirit and mind, according to Eric Shahan, who recently translated the text. Shahan is a Japanese translator who specializes in translating Japanese martial-arts texts. He also holds a San Dan (third-degree black belt) in Kobudō, a Japanese martial art.

read more here @ Live Science

Bookshelf: Wars of the Roses to Tudors

So, again, after a bit of a tidy up, I have managed to sort through the various tomes and arrange them in some sort of order.  These shelves are dedicated to various topics and biographies pertaining to the Wars of the Roses and slightly beyond to the Tudors.  It is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and is rather an eclectic mix.

Bookshelf: Military History, Crusades & Warfare

Had a tidy up of my books last weekend.  Just my "military" & crusades collection (mix of fiction & non-fiction with some religious overtones on the top shelf). 

The book that started it all is on the bottom shelf - the one with the raggedy green spine, sixth from left - Castles and Battles (well loved, well read, well worn, not so well aged).

The Sassana Stone Pentalogy by James Vella Bardon

Synopsis: the adventures of Spaniard Abel de Santiago are told in five volumes by author James Vella-Barden: The Sheriff's Catch; A Rebel North; Hero of Rossclogher; Trials in Tumult; Ring of Ruse.

Army deserter Abel de Santiago has all but avenged his murdered wife, when he is captured and sold as a galley slave as part of the the Spanish Armada bound for England (May 1588). After a crushing defeat, the Spanish ships are battered by extraordinary storms. Santiago soon finds himself washed ashore in Ireland, a country terrorised by men that the natives call Sassenachs. Santiago’s faint hopes of survival appear dashed when he is captured by the brutal Sheriff of Sligo, who has orders from Dublin to torture and kill all Spanish castaways. An unlikely twist of fate leaves Santiago fleeing Sligo with a jewelled ring worth a King’s ransom. His escape leads to a desperate chase across a strange and stunning land, where danger lurks at every turn.

It was the real events of the fate of the Spanish Armada that first drew me to the first in the series - The Sheriff's Catch. I was familiar enough with the basic history of Ireland in the 16th Century to be aware of the links between the "native" Irish and the Spanish, particularly those post-Armada. So my curiosity was piqued and lead to my own discovery of the events which form the backdrop of Valla Barden's series.

In Ireland, the last Desmond rebellion had been crushed around 1583, by Elizabeth’s army, their lands were confiscated and planted with English settlers. The defeated chieftains of Munster and their compatriots went into exile in Spain, many working in navy and army. These Irish exiles hoped that a Spanish victory might restore their lands. The first Irish regiment in Spanish service was born in 1587 when an Irish unit raised under an English Catholic, William Stanley and sent to the Netherlands, defected to the Spanish side. As a result Ireland appeared to the Spanish to be an obvious weak point for England, with a restive Catholic population that could be mobilized in their favour. 

The Spanish Armada was the largest naval invasion fleet ever known at the time, consisting of 130 ships and 29,450 men of various nationalities, including soldiers, sailors, a large number of priests and servants, all under command of Duke of Medina Sidonia, who ruled with an iron fist.

The historical events of the Spanish Armada of 1588, Spain’s great naval effort to conquer Protestant England, and the devastating consequences off the Irish coast have been well documented and as such will not be covered off here. Suffice to say that the decision to return home through North Atlantic proved fatal as they were driven off-course by bad weather and close on 24 ships were wrecked off the Irish coast from Antrim in the north to Kerry in the south (September 1588). 

The Annals of the Fours Masters says: 
Great numbers of the Spaniards were drowned, and their ships were totally wrecked in those places. The smaller part of them returned to Spain; and some say that nine thousand of them were lost on this occasion. 

In Dublin, Elizabeth’s government issued dire warnings about how Spanish were to be dealt with, along with any Irish who attempted to aid them immediate death. The English Lord Deputy of Ireland, Fitzwilliam, issued a proclamation whereby ‘Harbouring Castaways’ was punishable by death. To his own officers he wrote; 
‘Whereas the distressed fleet of the Spaniards by tempest and contrary winds, though the providence of God have been driven on the coast… where it is thought, great treasure and also ordinance, munitions [and] armour hath been cast. We authorize you to… to haul all hulls and to apprehend and execute all Spaniards found there of any quality soever. Torture May be used in prosecuting this inquiry.’ (source: Calendar of Carew Manuscripts 1575-1588) 

This chilling order, not to spare prisoners ‘of any quality [i.e. rank or social status] whatsoever’ was startlingly ruthless. Accordingly, Richard Bingham, the President of Connacht, and his brother George Bingham, executed up to 1,100 Spanish survivors of the wrecks who made it ashore in the western province. For instance, at Galway city, 300 Spanish prisoners including 40 aristocrats were beheaded on Fitzwilliam’s orders – though Bingham apparently regretted the loss of ransom money. Only a handful such as Don Luis de Cordoba, managed to secretly buy their way to safety in Scotland.

Native Irish treatment of the Spanish survivors was extremely varied. In Connacht, most Irish lords cooperated with Bingham, particularly the largest lords O’Brien, Earl of Thomond, and Burke, Earl of Clanricarde. Other clans such as the O’Flahertys also handed over Spanish prisoners. Others, seem simply to have seen the Armada as an opportunity for personal gain. Dubhdarach O’Malley Roe, on Clare Island, for instance killed the Spanish survivors and kept their gold for himself. However, in modern north Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim, areas which had very recently been in armed revolt against the English Crown – chieftains such as MacWilliam Burke, and Brian O’Rourke harboured Spaniards. 

In County Sligo, where three ships of fleet - La Lavia, La Juliana, and Santa Maria de Vision - sunk off the coast in a treacherous gale on September 25, 1588, a recent exciting discovery has confirmed their existence at bottom of the sea in Streedagh Strand which is near the village of Grange. 

The three ships had become detached from their squadron and drifted off the coast of Streedagh. A westward wind was howling and ships had few anchors, having cut them at English fire ship attack near Calais. They were hit by Atlantic storm and lifted as pounding waves on seaward side forced them over and eventually, the vessels rapidly broke up. 

A series of letters of one of Spanish aboard La Lavia who escaped subsequent massacre ashore, provides us with evidence of what occurred and is an important social and historical document detailing often horrific events he witnessed as he journeyed throughout areas of north Sligo, Leitrim and on Causeway coast of north Antrim. 

Francisco de Cúellar’s record of events when he was washed up, exhausted and broken, in Streedagh and his subsequent travels until he eventually got back to Spain survives. De Cúellar, a native of Castille-Y-Leon in Spain originally joined the fleet as captain of galleon San Pedro which was part of the squadron of Castille (he lost his rank and was transferred to La Lavia for disobeying orders). 

It is estimated that from three vessels about 1,800 men drowned and the rest came ashore at Streedagh. The English George Bingham’s army killed 140-150 Spanish at Streedagh. However, even before English forces arrived, surviving Spanish had to deal with Irish. Thousands of Irish natives gathered in sparsely populated Streedagh, beach now littered with bodies, flotsam and injured. Several Irish attacked (but contrary to popular view at the time, did not kill) Spanish, instead they took their money, clothes, jewellry and whatever could be salvaged from ships. 

Captain Francisco de Cuellar later wrote that, as a survivor, he found: “the land and shore were full of enemies, who went dancing with delight at our misfortune; and when any one of our people reached the beach, two hundred savages and other enemies fell upon him and stripped him of what he had.” 

Having escaped, de Cúellar’s now famous testimony records his epic journey. He found refuge from friendly chieftains of Sligo & Leitrim - De Cúellar wrote of ‘passing seven months among mountains and woods with savages’

O’Rourke of Breifne, whom he described as ‘a savage but a very good Christian and an enemy of the heretics, always carrying on war with them’, sent him through the territory of several other friendly clans including McClancy of Rosclogher and Redmond O’Gallagher, Bishop of Derry and the O’Cahans. 

De Cúellar also witnessed much cruelty, arriving at nearby Staid Abbey he found "twelve Spaniards hanging within the church by act of Lutheran English." Later, after being forced to work as a blacksmith in Glenade valley de Cúellar fetches up at McClancy castle at Rossclogher, Lough Melvin, County Leitrim. After defending McClancy’s castle from English forces, de Cúellar was offered, as a token of gratitude, hand in marriage of McClancy’s sister. However, de Cúellar slipped away quietly and secretly took ship back to the Spanish Netherlands. - 

Subsequently, Brian O’Rourke, Prince of Breffni (who was said to have fled to Scotland before being handed over to the English) and McClancy who had helped not only de Cúellar but other Spanish survivors, were both executed by the English crown. 

In Ulster, which was still largely outside of English control, the Spaniards seem to have fared somewhat better, at least if they survived shipwreck. In Antrim the Scottish/Irish MacDonnell clan led by Sorley Boy (Somhairle Buidh) helped up to 500 Spaniards escape to Scotland. 

The position of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, the most powerful northern leader, at this point still proclaiming himself a loyal subject to Elizabeth I, was hard to pin down. He sheltered and kept on a number of Spanish commanders to train his own forces, whom he was soon to lead in a war against the Elizabethan state. Nevertheless, he also reported to Fitzwilliam the Lord Deputy that he had ‘put a large number of Spaniards to the sword’ in Inishowen (modern Donegal). During Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell’s Nine Years War (1595-1603) against the English Crown, both lords were in constant communication with Phillip II, who aided them with weapons, money and finally a landing of Spanish troops at Kinsale in 1601-2. 

Ironically enough, those Spaniards lucky enough to be shipwrecked in England itself were generally treated much more leniently. Most were taken prisoner and eventually repatriated.

As I said, what better backdrop of an epic series with all the essential elements: an quest for vengeance; a priceless treasure; an emotional journey; a desperate escape; a daring and exciting adventure.

further reading & sources:
Ireland: Graveyard of the Spanish Armada by TP Kilfeather
Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill's Blog Post: 1588 - A Dark Year For Galway

Monday, June 24, 2019

Blog Tour - Tim Hodkinson - Odin's Game

Blog Post: Orkney and the Whale Road Chronicles -Tim Hodkinson

Image result for odin's gameMy generous host today set me the task of writing about why I chose Orkney as a setting for my new novel, Odin’s Game, and what my plans are for the rest of the series.

I’ve always found Orkney a fascinating place. Remote to modern, London-centric eyes but when the map is turned upside down and the clock rolled back by a few centuries, the islands lie at the centre of another ancient world, that of the Vikings. 

The name of the islands itself is ancient and the many Neolithic and other prehistoric sites remaining there point to the importance of Orkney in the Stone Age. Several of these sites also have direct links to a later Norse age of Orkney’s history. The stunning Ring of Brodgar, a Stone Age henge and stone circle that sits on a ness between two lochs has stones dates to the Neolithic era. Some of its stones bear Norse runic carvings and local tradition says the Norse used it for their own pagan rituals. Maeshowe, a prehistoric chambered cairnsunk in a mound thought to date back to 2700 BC, also has inscriptions carved by Norsemen who took shelter there one stormy night millennia afterwards.  This place inspired a scene in Odin’s Game which touches on the Orcadian folk belief in “Trows”, creatures whose name comes from the Norse Troll,but refers not to the gigantic creatures of Scandinavian folklore but to the local supernatural “little people” the Norse found when they arrived in Orkney. 

The Vikings arrived at a time in the Eight to Ninth centuries now lost in the mists of time.An Icelandic Saga from the later Middle Ages (13th Century) known as Orkneyinga Saga,relates their history. It’s a fascinating tale in which legendary characters with names like Kari,Snaer, Logi, Frosti and Nor(Storm, Snow, Flame, Frost and North) mix in a maelstrom with semi-historical figures like Sigurd the Stout, “Turf” Einar and Thorfinn Hausakljúfr,“the SkullSplitter”. Thorfinn now has a beer named after him and his nickname proved too irresistible for me not to include a character inspired by him, though I chose to translate kljúfras“cleaver” which is basically the same word. Kljúfr perfectly illustrates how Old Norse and Old English were sister languages, and modern English is a hybrid of the two. Similarly the belief in Trows/Trolls illustrate the compelling blend of Norse and indigenous (call is Scottish/Pictish/British what you will) culture that Orkney itself represents, and what drove me to use it as a setting.

In Norse times Orkney was centred on a vast trade route that went in an arc from Dublin in the West to Hedeby in Denmark in the East and even beyond, past Novgorod and south as far as Constantinople. Norse traders and adventurers plied these routes in their longships, a network of sea lanes that they referred to as “the Whale Roads”. 

Odin’s Game is the first book in a series called The Whale Road Chronicles. The story will follow Einar Thorfinnsson as he journeys across the Norse world, seeking to learn the truth about his family as he builds his power, skills and alliances so he can finally confront his ultimate enemy, the powerful and deadly Jarl Thorfinn of Orkney.

Odin’s Game is published by Aria Fiction and is available in ebook format from Amazon and through all the usual channels .

Monday, June 17, 2019

Gumshoes: A Dictionary of Fictional Detectives

Front CoverThe enormous explosion of crime fiction over the last decade means that more people are looking for a good mystery than ever before. Many of the most popular mystery books appear in series, and these series feature carefully developed detectives. Gumshoes: A Dictionary of Fictional Detectives by Mitzi Brunsdale includes alphabetically arranged entries on roughly 150 fictional detectives, with an emphasis on contemporary figures. 

The volume provides coverage of familiar and less familiar detectives; male and female protagonists; gay and lesbian lead characters; and figures from a wide range of historical, cultural, and geographical settings. Included are entries on: Jim Chee, Adam Dalgliesh, Gregor Demarkian, Sister Fidelma, Joe Leaphorn, Pharoah Love, Thomas Lynle,L Kate Martinelli, Sharon McCone, Kinsey Millhone, Monsieur Pamplemouse, Easy Rawlins, Ian Rutledge, Shan Tao Yun, and many more. 

Entries discuss the various novels in which the detective appears; the character's locale and time period; the detective's associates, adversaries, and significant others; and the character's investigative techniques. The entries direct the reader to similar series for further reading, and to additional sources of information. The volume closes with a selected, general bibliography; various appendices; and an extensive index.

Inspector Alvarez Series by Roderick Jeffries

Mystery / crime series starring Enrique Alvarez, a police inspector in Mallorca, Spain, with the first in the series published in 1974 and the last (to date) in 2013.

Related imageAlvarez is nothing special as far as detectives go. He isn’t necessarily the smartest or most astute individual on the block. His strength lies in his determination. Alvarez is what one might call a humane detective.  He cares about people. More importantly, he cares about the people of Mallorca. And when something goes amiss, he cannot help but investigate, if only to make sure his community is safe. And Alvarez doesn’t stop hunting and seeking until he gets his man.

Alvarez’s heart is always getting him into trouble. He cannot help but stick his nose into other people’s business, especially when a murder occurs. Even when the victim in question is despised by all who knew him, and even when everyone on the island couldn’t be happier that the individual in question is dead, Alvarez makes it his goal to care.  He makes it his mission to deliver justice even when justice isn’t wanted. That often means stepping on all the wrong toes.

The Inspector Alvarez series is typically deliberately paced. Even in the most serious of criminal cases, Alvarez has a penchant for taking his time, slowly working through the evidence and scrutinizing the clues until he finds his suspect.

An Inspector Alvarez MysteryThat is often what fails Alvarez’s targets. They tend to dismiss him and his slow-paced approach to detective work. They only realize their folly when the good inspector is at their doorstep, waiting to slap the handcuffs on.

A lot of the crime committed in the Inspector Alvarez series revolves around English men and women who are either staying on Mallorca or simply visiting. Sometimes trouble comes to them from within Mallorca.  Other times, they bring the trouble over from England. Either way, it falls on the shoulders of Alvarez to clean up their mess, and he does a pretty good job of it.

List courtesy of Fantastic Fiction (read L -> R)

Mistakenly in Mallorca
Two-Faced Death
Troubled Deaths
Murder Begets Murder
Just Desserts
Unseemly End
Deadly Petard
Three & One Makes Five
Layers of Deceit
Almost Murder
Relatively Dangerous
Death Trick
Dead Clever
Too Clever By Half
Murder’s Long Memory
A fatal Fleece
Murder Confounded
Death Takes Time
An Arcadian death
An Artistic Way To Go
A Maze of Murders
An Enigmatic Disappearance
An Artful Death
The Ambiguity of Murder
Definitely Deceased
Seeing Is Deceiving
An Intriguing Murder
An Air of Murder
A Sunny Disappearance
Murder Delayed
Murder Needs Imagination
An Instinctive Murder
Sun, Sea & Murder
A Question of Motive
Murder, Majorcan Style
Murdered By Nature
In Search of Murder

read more here @ Scene of the Crime

The Doctor Watson Adventures by Patrick Mercer

Sherlock's Holmes's great friend Dr. Watson was usually happy to chronicle the cases of the master detective.  But occasionally he struck out alone.  And solved a mystery on his own.

Patrick Mercer tells the story of Sherlock Holmes's great friend Watson's formative years in the Army. It is a must-read for fans of Holmes, and for anyone who enjoys historical military fiction.

The Doctor Watson Adventures
Doctor Watson's War: 
Afghanistan. 1880.   A bloodied but unbowed young medic must fight in a war that will test both his courage and conscience to its very limits. Despite his own wound, despite the howling tribesman hounding his every step back to the walls of Kandahar, he will not forsake the injured soldiers and victims of battle who he has sworn to treat and protect. 

The most difficult to save of all though is Alisha Kahn, the beautiful and enigmatic fighting queen - shot down as she led the Afghans against the British and brought to the dressing station by Private 'Posh' Williams, the gentleman ranker.   Her warrior brothers want to save her, whilst the retreating troops can see no reason why she should live.

The terror and nobility of the events fought across blood-soaked desert sands – culminating in the Battle of Maiwand - will scar and inspire Doctor John H. Watson forever.

Doctor Watson's Charge:
The enigmatic army officer Captain JAC Smethwick is a veteran of the The Charge of the Light Brigade.  But when he visits Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson he has more on his mind than the conflict in the Crimea. There is a mystery surrounding the death of his former employer, Lord Cardigan.   Smethwick believes that the man responsible for his death is none other than the former Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.

Holmes sends Watson off to Deene Park, Lord Cardigan's estate, to investigate and question the victim's widow - the colourful and flirtatious Adeline de Horsey.   But Watson starts to uncover an altogether more sinister and complex conspiracy.  And rather than unmask the murderer, Watson may become his next victim.  The game's afoot - but who is the hunter and who will be the prey?

Actor Nigel Stock.jpgDoctor Watson's Bout:
The British boxing champion Ezekial Shaw has been knifed to death. Yet the world's greatest consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, seems indifferent towards the case.  Doctor Watson is intrigued, however, and starts an investigation of his own.  But his line of questioning soon causes him to cross paths with a certain Colonel Moriarty.  And it leads him into an affair with a possible suspect - Amelia, the sensual and seductive wife of Ezekial Shaw.

Yet as he gets closer to the mysterious truth, the boxing underworld stands in his way. And to keep the truth hidden, plans are made to murder the investigator.  Before the case is solved, Watson will have to fight his way out of tighter corner than any he ever found himself in with Holmes. 

Doctor Watson's Terror:
1882. The Irish Republican Brotherhood (the Fenians) are fighting for independence from the UK.  As Doctor Watson is walking back towards Parliament Square, two carriages collide in a serious accident. He rushes to help – and simultaneously a novel dynamite device is discovered outside the Home Office and defused before it can go off. 

During a subsequent visit to Sherlock Holmes, Watson receives a telegram from the Royal Irish Constabulary, asking him to visit Ireland, and the two earlier incidents start to seem related.  Once in Ireland, Watson and his own sidekick Bowler, find themselves embroiled in an assassination plot and are kidnapped by Fenian rebels. Can the two Englishmen escape from the rebel gang in time to prevent further murders? 

Doctor Watson's Battle:
Image result for doctor watsonSherlock Holmes, along with Doctor John Watson and, his friend and one time orderly, Bowler are working on a case involving two chemistry students from Belgrade. However, investigations have to be put on hold as the trio are to attend the Regimental Fete in Colchester.

There is much discussion about Watson’s latest amour, Mrs Daisy Lynch, a widow, and sister of Right Honourable, Major Nicholas Stomark MP. Stomark, also known as Scamper, turned tail from the conflict in Afghanistan when everyone else was attacking, although he doesn’t seem to remember it like that.

Due to Princess Charlotte’s attendance at the Regimental Fete, a special display is called for, the re-enactment of the denouement of Maiwand in Helmand. 

Dressed in costume, Watson and Bowler are roped in, together with the enthusiastic Scamper and Helena Lynch, Daisy’s sister-in-law. Helena is well known for her exploits and drug use, and being part of the Stomark circle. 

During the re-enactment a fatal accident occurs. But was it really an accident?  So follows another case for Sherlock and Watson.   But, things are not as easy to resolve as at first thought. Is there a murderer on the loose?  And can the pair catch him in time...?

Monday, June 10, 2019

Harry Parker Mystery Series by Jim Hart

A Tom Collins to Go.
Times change, but when it comes to certain genres of literature, sometimes the old ways are the best ways. There are still legions of loyal readers who long for the days of Dashiell Hammet and Mickey Spillane. Robert B. Parker, the famous modern day detective novelist knew this and successfully incorporated some of the deadpan style and film noir humor and drama of these authors into the modern day adventures of his private eye, Spencer. 

Jim Hart has created a powerful rendering of the golden era of the private eye story in his new novel, A Tom Collins to Go. The work chronicles the adventures of private eye Harry Parker who works in the Big Apple back in the days when it was still Gotham City. Harry drinks too much, laments his failed marriage, longs for his ex and scratches out a living as a hardscrabble PI. Which all lends to his ‘don’t give a damn’ demeanor and what makes him so lovable. 

The Aviation Cocktail (Harry Parker Mystery Series Book 2) by [Hart, Jim]The Aviation Cocktail

The second in Jim Hart’s Harry Parker mystery series finds our Brooklyn P.I. investigating the death of a prominent industrialist whose body is discovered in the bed of his sleeping wife. Set in 1947 this noir suspense filled whodunit holds you attention as Harry rambles over the streets of Brooklyn. The baffling circumstances of the murder becomes entwined with another enigma facing Harry. The patter and pace of the plot keeps the reader engaged so much that you’ll feel as if you’re with Harry and his cronies. As Harry slowly unravels the murder much is reveled, leading our hero to unexpected heights.

Diagnosing Giants by Philip A. Mackowiak

Cover for 

Diagnosing Giants

Diagnosing Giants: Solving the Medical Mysteries of Thirteen Patients Who Changed the World traces the history of medicine through the illnesses of some of the most influential figures of the past. Standard biographies all too often pay scant attention to the health issues that affected their subjects. 

Yet, the diseases suffered by these figures had profound effects on their lives and their legacies. Each chapter opens with a detailed medical history of the patient. Facts relevant to the historical figure's life and legacy are woven into the case summary, and the mystery patient's identity is revealed at the conclusion of the case summary. The author then analyzes the medical history, offers a differential diagnosis and a final diagnosis. Where relevant, the potential effects of the subject's medical problems on his or her life and legacy are discussed.

Three Sisters in Black: The Bizarre True Case of the Bathtub Tragedy by Norman Zierold

Three Sisters in Black: The Bizarre True Case of the Bathtub Tragedy by [Zierold, Norman]In 1909, a bathtub drowning became one of the most famous and bizarre criminal cases in American history.

On November 29, 1909, police were called to a ramshackle home in East Orange, New Jersey, where they found the emaciated body of twenty-four-year-old Oceana “Ocey” Snead facedown in the bathtub—dead of an apparent suicide by drowning. There was even a note left behind.

But it would not take authorities long to discover that Ocey’s death was no suicide. And Ocey’s own mother and two aunts were far from the sorrowful caretakers they appeared to be.

In fact, behind the veils of their strange black mourning clothes, they were monsters, having tormented Ocey almost since birth in a sick pattern of both physical and mental abuse, after a lifetime of which the women planned to cash in on poor Ocey’s sad and inevitable death.

read more here

Family Secrets: The Scandalous History of an Extraordinary Family by Derek Malcolm

‘Some people’s secrets should never be told. The secret, though, that surrounded my parents’ unhappy life together, was divulged to me by accident . . .’

Family Secrets: The scandalous history of an extraordinary family by [Malcolm, Derek]Hidden under some papers in his father’s bureau, the sixteen-year-old Derek Malcolm finds a book by the famous criminologist Edgar Lustgarten called The Judges and the Damned. Browsing through the Contents pages Derek reads, ‘Mr Justice McCardie tries Lieutenant Malcolm – page 33.’ But there is no page 33. The whole chapter has been ripped out of the book. 

Slowly but surely, the shocking truth emerges: that Derek’s father, shot his wife’s lover and was acquitted at a famous trial at the Old Bailey.  The victim was the self-titled Count de Borch, Count de Borch, aka Anton Baumberg, a dubious character, womaniser and possibly a white slaver and spy for the Germans, who had seduced the lieutenant's wife, Dorothy.

The trial was unique in British legal history as the first case of a crime passione, where a guilty man is set free, on the grounds of self-defence. Husband and wife lived together unhappily ever after, raising Derek in their wake. 

Then, in a dramatic twist, following his father’s death, Derek receives an open postcard from his Aunt Phyllis, informing him that his real father is the Italian Ambassador to London . . . 

By turns laconic and affectionate, Derek Malcolm has written a richly evocative memoir of a family sinking into hopeless disrepair.

From The Church Times 15th September 1917
[The trial that followed the shooting in his Paddington lodgings of the self-styled Count de Borch, Anton Baumberg, by an army officer home from the Front, had provided a distraction from the war news. Was it, some were asking, a case of a husband’s right to avenge his wife’s honour?]
THE trial of Lieutenant [Douglas] Malcolm on the charge of murder let loose a flood of talk about what is known in some other countries as the “unwritten law”. Counsel for the prosecution emphatically affirmed that no such thing is known in the English Courts. If a person’s death is compassed with intention to kill, the slayer is a murderer, and counsel for the defence abstained from resting his case on the plea of the “unwritten law”. He argued that the prisoner, when he shot Baumberg, was acting in self-defence, and the jury accepted this theory, with the result that Lieut. Malcolm was acquitted. It was certainly better so: the law was not strained. This deplorable case raises the question why such people as Baumberg are allowed to be at large. He was known to the police as an undesirable alien, preying on weak women, keeping company with spies, and supporting himself by other infamous practices. He ought long ago to have been placed out of mischief, either by deportation or by internment. His removal through death rids us only of one among many of his sort. Possibly the fact that public attention has been drawn to the existence of this type of persons in our midst may induce the authorities to deal with them effectively.

Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail by Suzanne Stark

The wives and female guests of commissioned officers often went to sea in the sailing ships of Britain's Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries, but there were other women on board as well, rarely mentioned in print. 

Suzanne Stark thoroughly investigates the custom of allowing prostitutes to live with the crews of warships in port. She provides some judicious answers to questions about what led so many women to such an appalling fate and why the Royal Navy unofficially condoned the practice. She also offers some revealing firsthand accounts of the wives of warrant officers and seamen who spent years at sea living--and fighting--beside their men without pay or even food rations, and of the women in male disguise who served as seamen or marines.

This lively history draws on primary sources and so gives an authentic view of life on board the ships of Britain's old sailing navy and the social context of the period that served to limit roles open to lower-class women.

Books: The Black Douglas

Sir James Douglas (also known as Good Sir James and the Black Douglas) (c. 1286 – 25 August 1330) was a Scottish knight and feudal lord. He was one of the chief commanders during the Wars of Scottish Independence. He is famed for being tasked to take the casket with the heart of Robert the Bruce to Jerusalem for burial.

Here is just a selection of books about Sir James and The Douglas Clan.

The Spider and the Stone: A Novel of Scotland's Black Douglas by Glen Craney
Here is the story of the remarkable events following the execution of William Wallace of Braveheart fame. Set during the Bruce wars of independence, The Spider and the Stone is the unforgettable saga of the star-crossed love, religious intrigue, fierce friendship in arms, and heroic sacrifice that preserved Scotland's freedom during its time of greatest peril. 

The Black Douglas Trilogy by JR Tomlin
Image result for books black douglases
The year is 1300. James Douglas is a Scottish youth sent to France by his noble father to escape being taken hostage by the English. When word comes that his father has died in the Tower of London, he is hurled into the war between Scotland and England. Catapulted into an intrigue of rival factions and clashing armies that threatens Scotland, his own lands, and his life, he joins the newly crowned Robert the Bruce in a desperate, seemingly hopeless struggle. Thus begins a story of bravery and determination that has echoed through the ages. (A Kingdom's Cost; Countenance of War; Not For Glory)

James the Good: The Black Douglas by David R Ross
Sir James the Good, one of the finest soldiers Scotland ever produced, is sometimes better known by the name given to him by the English - the 'Black Douglas'. He terrified the northern shires of England throughout the reign of King Robert the Bruce and the Wars of Independence. When Robert the Bruce died Sir James, as his champion, was entrusted with his heart which he carried on the Crusades. David R Ross brings history alive as he tells the story of Sir James' life. Ross' research found him retracing Sir James' journey to the Holy Land and rediscovering battle grounds, providing a personal view of history. With a refreshing look at the subject, and featuring all new information and research, interesting maps, battleplans and photographs, this book will make Scottish history accessible and understandable for the casual reader, while delighting history buffs.

A Douglas! A Douglas! by P M Kane
An inspiring novel based on the true story of Sir James Douglas, a gallant and fearless Scottish knight of medieval times, who devoted his entire life to the freedom and liberty of his nation. His life was one of constant warfare in a lawless land, a life where brother fought with brother, family with family and nation with nation. These were times when the strong ruled the land and the weak were forced to submit or face instant death. He sought out the one common enemy and became obsessed with its destruction. He lived and died for his cause. He gave up his life while fulfilling the dying wish of his beloved King. His final mission was to carry the brave heart of King Robert the Bruce into battle. His enemies called him 'The Black Douglas.' His nation remembers him as, the Good Sir James Douglas.

Image result for books black douglasesAnd a little later .....

The Black Douglas by Nigel Tranter

The turbulent tale of the 15th century feud between the Douglas family and the Stewarts during the reign of James II King of Scots.  It was almost inevitable that in the 15th century the new Scots royal house of Stewart would have to come to a reckoning with the great house of Douglas.  Young Will Douglas, the eight earl, was born to vast power, influence - and trouble. And with the boy-king James II on an uneasy throne, and scoundrels ruling Scotland, the death of Will's father plunged him suddenly into a world where might prevailed and the end justified the means.

further reading:
* The History of the House and Race of Douglas and Angus by David Hume
* History of the Black Douglas, with an account of the battle of Otterburn by Sir James Douglas
* The Black Douglas by IM Davis
* The Broken Cross: A Legend of Douglas, with Chronicles of the Black Douglases as an Appendix by Herbert Reid
* Black Douglas by John Brown
* The Black Douglases: War and Lordship in Late Medieval Scotland, 1300-1455 by Michael Brown

for more on Sir James Douglas