Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Magic of Reading Arthur Conan Doyle's Letters

From CrimeReads:
Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, edited by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley, is a real treat for Sherlock Holmes fans. The letters were written to Doyle’s family, publishers and others, but most of them are to his ‘Mam’, who he was very close to all his life. He describes her as a wonderful storyteller, and attributes his own gifts to her influence, while his gift for dramatic effect came from his father, an artist whose alcoholism led to lengthy stays in sanitoria and asylums in the latter part of his life.

As well as some fascinating insights into Conan Doyle’s personal life and politics, they also provide some background to the development of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

read more from author Mick Finlay @ CrimeReads

Friday, July 3, 2020

"Silent Angel" A Novella By Antonia Arslan

The story of the rescue of the Homilary of Moush, the largest surviving Armenian manuscript, has for many years traveled through Armenian memories and legends. It- like Franz Werfel’s epic of Musa Dagh is one of the few stories that are source of pride and honor for this defeated and humiliated people. Now dispersed in every corner of the world, having been almost completely destroyed by the 1915 genocide, the Armenians have had their ancestral land taken from them forever.

According to the most widely diffused legend, two women found the book in the rubble of the monastery and carried it to safety by dividing it into two. One of the women died, after having buried her half of the book. That half was discovered by a Russian officer and taken to Tbilisi, while the other half was taken to Yerevan and given to the monks of Etchmiadzin.

The book was put back together in the 1920s. A few of its pages, removed in the nineteenth century, are conserved in the collection of Mekhitarist fathers in Venice and Vienna.

Paula Guran Reviews The Heart Is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories by Angela Slatter

British and World Fantasy Award recipient Angela Slatter’s writing is elegant, elo­quent, evocative, and exquisitely disturb­ing; polished to the rich patina found only on the finest quality antique silver, it casts a spell on the reader. Luckily, the Australian author is nearly as prolific as she is talented. The Heart Is a Mir­ror for Sinners and Other Stories is her eighth collection (two of the seven previous ones were co-written with Lisa L. Hannett.)

This latest compilation offers a wide range of stories: mythic/folkloric, gothic, dark humor, Lovecraftian (both serious and not), even forays into science fiction and hard-nosed detective fic­tion. The women in Slatter’s stories tend to be cut from the same fabric: they may make mistakes, but they gain the strength to claim life or gain revenge or do whatever must be done. They are shrewd, brave, and usually triumph – not that they are always on the side of good or light.

read more here @ Locus Online

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Disrupt and Deny by Rory Cormac

Cover for 

Disrupt and Deny

British leaders use spies and Special Forces to interfere in the affairs of others discreetly and deniably. Since 1945, MI6 has spread misinformation designed to divide and discredit targets from the Middle East to Eastern Europe and Northern Ireland. It has instigated whispering campaigns and planted false evidence on officials working behind the Iron Curtain, tried to foment revolution in Albania, blown up ships to prevent the passage of refugees to Israel, and secretly funnelled aid to insurgents in Afghanistan and dissidents in Poland. MI6 has launched cultural and economic warfare against Iceland and Czechoslovakia. It has tried to instigate coups in Congo, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere. Through bribery and blackmail, Britain has rigged elections as colonies moved to independence. Britain has fought secret wars in Yemen, Indonesia, and Oman — and discreetly used Special Forces to eliminate enemies from colonial Malaya to Libya during the Arab Spring.

This is covert action: a vital, though controversial, tool of statecraft and perhaps the most sensitive of all government activity. If used wisely, it can play an important role in pursuing national interests in a dangerous world. If used poorly, it can cause political scandal — or worse.

In Disrupt and Deny, Rory Cormac tells the remarkable true story of Britain's secret scheming against its enemies, as well as its friends; of intrigue and manoeuvring within the darkest corridors of Whitehall, where officials fought to maintain control of this most sensitive and seductive work; and, above all, of Britain's attempt to use smoke and mirrors to mask decline. He reveals hitherto secret operations, the slush funds that paid for them, and the battles in Whitehall that shaped them.

Hawkwood series by James McGee

McGee's historical novels are set during the Regency period, when Britain was at war with Napoleon. His hero, Matthew Hawkwood, is working as a Bow Street Runner, an early investigative officer working out of London's Bow Street Magistrates' Court. He is called upon to solve a number of civil crimes, including murder, body-snatching and highway robbery, but his previous military experience makes him ably suited to investigate issues of national security.

Hawkwood has a complicated back-story, which is touched upon at various stages of the novels. He once served as an officer in the 95th Rifles, but was cashiered after he killed a fellow officer in a duel. With Wellington's intervention, he was spared a court-martial, and joined the Spanish Guerrilleros, liaising with the British intelligence officer Colquhoun Grant. It is Grant's influence that enables Hawkwood to get a job at Bow Street on his return to England.

McGee's creation of Hawkwood's past was deliberate, as he wanted a hero who was "at home in both the military and criminal worlds". Many reviewers and readers have drawn similarities between Hawkwood and the author Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe, particularly as they both served in the Rifles. McGee admits this similarity was a concern for him, but giving Hawkwood a background in the Rifle Brigade was important to the plot. Much of the action within the novels is inspired by historical events. 

Hawkwood (also titled Ratcatcher):
The year is 1811, and Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood is ordered by Chief Magistrate James Read to investigate the double murder of a coachman and a naval courier on the Kent Road.

Hawkwood initially wonders why Read is so concerned by this relatively mundane case, but before long, another body is discovered, and a higher agenda emerges—an attempt by the Emperor Napoleon to deliver a crushing military and psychological blow to Britain that could lead cause terror on the seas for years to come. . . .

Hawkwood is back in the second adventure in the rollicking historical series featuring the enigmatic Bow Street Runner.

Resurrectionist (Matthew Hawkwood, #2)Death can be a lucrative business. But it’s the corpses the body-snatchers leave behind, horribly mutilated and nailed to a tree, which sets Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood on their trail.

A new term at London’s anatomy schools stokes demand for fresh corpses, and the city’s "resurrection men" vie for control of the market. Their rivalry takes an ugly turn when a grave robber is brutally murdered and his body displayed as a warning to other gangs. To hunt down those responsible, Hawkwood must venture into London’s murkiest corners, where even more gruesome discoveries await him.

Nowhere, however, is as grim as Bedlam, notorious asylum for the insane and scene of another bizarre killing. Sent to investigate, Hawkwood finds himself pitted against his most formidable adversary yet, an obsessive genius hell-bent on advancing the cause of science at all costs.

Rapscallion (Matthew Hawkood, #3)
For a French prisoner of war, there is only one fate worse than the gallows: the hulks. Former man-o-wars, now converted to prison ships, their fearsome reputation guarantees a sentence served in dreadful conditions. Few survive. Escape, it’s said, is impossible. Yet reports persist of a sinister smuggling operation within this brutal world, and the Royal Navy is worried enough to send two of its officers to investigate.When they disappear without a trace, the Navy turns in desperation to Bow Street for help. It’s time to send in a man as dangerous as the prey. It’s time to send in Hawkwood.

October 1812: Britain and France are still at war. France is engaged on two battle fronts - Spain and Russia - and her civilians are growing weary of the fight. Rebellion is brewing. Since Napoleon Bonaparte appointed himself as First Consul, there have been several attempts to either kill or overthrow him. All have failed, so far! 

Rebellion (Matthew Hawkwood, #4)Meanwhile in London, Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood has been seconded to the foreign arm of the Secret Service. There, he meets the urbane Henry Brooke, who tells him he's to join a colleague in Paris on a special mission. Brooke's agent has come up with a daring plan and he needs Hawkwood's help to put it into action. If the plan is successful it could lead to a negotiated peace treaty between France and the allies. Failure would mean prison, torture and a meeting with the guillotine!

The Blooding:
The Blooding (Matthew Hawkwood, #5)1812: Matthew Hawkwood, soldier turned spy, is stranded behind enemy lines, in America, a country at war with Britain.Heading for the safety of the Canadian border, Hawkwood’s route takes him to Albany, where the chance sighting of a former comrade-in-arms—Major Douglas Lawrence—within a consignment of British prisoners stymies to his plans. For as the two men make their escape they uncover an American plot to invade Canada. If it is successful, the entire continent will be lost. The British authorities must be warned.

Pursued by a relentless enemy, Hawkwood and Lawrence set off across the snow-bound Adirondack Mountains; the land the Iroquois call ‘The Hunting Grounds’. But they are not alone.Buried deep in Hawkwood’s past is an old alliance – one that could save both their lives and help turn the tide of war…

The Reckoning:
London, 1813: Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood is summoned to a burial ground and finds the corpse of a young woman, murdered and cast into an open grave.

The Reckoning (Matthew Hawkwood, #6)At first the death is deemed to be of little consequence. But when Chief Magistrate James Read receives a direct order from the Home Office to abandon the case, Hawkwood’s interest is piqued.

His hunt for the killer will lead him from London’s backstreets into the heart of a government determined to protect its secrets at all costs. Only Hawkwood’s contacts within the criminal underworld can now help.

As the truth behind the girl’s murder emerges, setting in motion a deadly chain of events, Hawkwood learns the true meaning of loyalty and that the enemy is much closer to home than he ever imagined

Court of Richard II and Bohemian Culture by Alfred Thomas

The Court of Richard II and Bohemian Culture
Bohemian culture exercised an important influence on the court of King Richard II, but it has been somewhat overlooked, with previous scholarship on its writers and artists generally confined to the role played by the French court of King Charles V and the Italian city states of Milan and Florence. 

This book aims to fill that gap. It argues that Richard's marriage to Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, one of the greatest rulers and patrons of the age, exposed England to the full extent of this international court culture. 

Ricardian writers, including Chaucer, Gower and the Gawain-poet, wrote in their native language not because they felt "English" in the modern national sense but because they aspired to be part of a burgeoning vernacular European culture stretching from Paris to Prague and from Brabant to Brandenburg; thus, one of the major periods of English literature can only be properly understood in relation to this larger European context.

A Plague of Informers by Rachel Weil

"A Plague of Informers" by Rachel WeilStories of plots, sham plots, and the citizen-informers who discovered them are at the center of Rachel Weil's compelling study of the turbulent decade following the Revolution of 1688. 

Most studies of the Glorious Revolution focus on its causes or long-term effects, but Weil instead zeroes in on the early years when the survival of the new regime was in doubt. 

By encouraging informers, imposing loyalty oaths, suspending habeas corpus, and delaying the long-promised reform of treason trial procedure, the Williamite regime protected itself from enemies and cemented its bonds with supporters, but also put its own credibility at risk.

English Convents In Catholic Europe 1600 - 1800 by James E. Kelly

In 1598, the first English convent to be founded since the dissolution of the monasteries was established in Brussels, followed by a further twenty-one foundations, which all self-identified as English institutions in Catholic Europe. Around four thousand women entered these religious houses over the following two centuries. 

English Convents in Catholic Europe, c.1600–1800This book highlights the significance of the English convents as part of, and contributors to, national and European Catholic culture. Covering the whole exile period and making extensive use of rarely consulted archive material, James E. Kelly situates the English Catholic experience within the wider context of the Catholic Reformation and Catholic Europe. He thus transforms our understanding of the convents, stressing that they were not isolated but were, in fact, an integral part of the transnational Church which transcended national boundaries. 

The original and immersive structure takes the reader through the experience of being a nun, from entry into the convent, to day-to-day life in enclosure, how the enterprise was funded, as well as their wider place within the Catholic world.

Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses by Gábor Klaniczay

Holy Rulers and Blessed PrincessesMedieval dynasties frequently relied upon the cult of royal saints for legitimacy. After the early medieval emergence of this type of sainthood, in the central Middle Ages most royal dynasties had saints in their family: Edward the Confessor, Olaf, Canute, Louis IX, Charlemagne, the Emperor Henry II, and Wenceslas are some of the best-known examples. 

Within this context the saints of the Hungarian ruling dynasty - the Arpadians - constitute a remarkable sequence: St Stephen, St Emeric, St Ladislas, St Elizabeth, St Margaret and other central European blessed princesses, whose convents mirrored the Court of Heaven. 

This sequence of dynastic saints provide an example of the late medieval evolution of royal and dynastic sainthood. Building upon a series of case studies from Hungary and central Europe, Gábor Klaniczay proposes a synthesis of the multiple forms and transformations of royal and dynastic sainthood in medieval Europe.

Mediaeval Greece by Nicolas Cheetham

"Mediaeval Greece" by Nicolas CheethamThe history of Greece between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the birth of the modern Greek state is for most people an historical blank. Specialist studies are not lacking, but unlike the other Mediterranean lands that have been the subject of many recent books, there has been no general history of mediaeval Greece published in English since 1908. This book is an attempt to fill the gap.

The history of Greece in this period offers a long series of human dramas played out among clashes and contrasts between races, cultures, and religions; between Greeks and Slavs; between Frenchmen, Italians, Catalans, and Turks; between the Orthodox, the Catholic, and the Moslem faiths; between the old order and audacious intruders. Western knights jousted among the ruins of antiquity, and Venetian and Turkish galleys fought each other throughout the Aegean.

After an introductory account of the Dark Age invasions of Goths and Slavs and of the survival and reestablishment of the Greek identity under Byzantine rule, Nicolas Cheetham discusses the Frankish domination of Greece after the Fourth Crusade (1204) when Frenchmen and Italians divided Greece between them and set up rival feudal dynasties. The book describes how princes from Champagne, dukes from Burgundy, Catalan adventurers, and Florentine bankers ruled in the Peloponnese and at Athens, and how the Greeks led by Palaeologus and Cantacuzeno from Byzantium reconquered the country, only to lose it again to the Turks.

This book illuminates a long but hitherto little known period in the history of one of Europe’s most intensively studied countries.

New Book Digs Into the Political History of Potatoes

Rebecca Earle ..... food historian and professor at the University of Warwick has spent several years tracing the history of the potato from its early origins in the Andes to the commonly consumed starch that makes it onto kitchen tables around the world. 

In her latest book, Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato, Earle explains the crop’s evolution to become today’s global staple, but also dives into how the vegetable became central to government dietary policy over the years. By tracing the history of the potato, Earle says we can understand how modern diets became what they are. 

read more here @ Modern Farmer

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Francine Hirsch - Soviet Contributions in Nuremberg Trials

For years, accounts of the Nuremberg Trials have relied on an America-centric view and have ignored the ways the Soviet Union helped create it. Francine Hirsch produces the first in-depth history of the trials with a sharp eye on the Soviet Union’s forgotten contributions.

Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg: A New History of the International Military Tribunal after World War II (Oxford University Press) includes research from previously unavailable sources to take a new look at Nuremberg. Hirsch offers a fuller picture of the ways politics and international law intertwine, and suggests that Soviet conceptions of postwar justice and war as seen at Nuremberg have found a permanent place in international law.

read more here @ Princeton Alumni Weekly

Me and My Detective - Authors Reveal

From The Guardian
Creating a long-running series featuring a much-loved character can be both a blessing and a curse. As time passes in the real world, the writer has to decide how to deal with a fictional timeline. Is it best to age a hero in real time or to let the world move on but keep your hero young? And how does the character develop as social mores change?

Then there’s the question of how, or indeed whether, to draw a series to a close. Christie kills off Poirot in Curtain, and Conan Doyle did his best to wave farewell to Holmes, sending him plummeting to his doom down the Reichenbach Falls. To avoid any such reversals, the late Andrea Camilleri wrote the final novel in his Inspector Montalbano series 14 years ago, giving it to his publisher for safekeeping to be published after his death.

How do their authors coexist with their characters over years – sometimes decades – and what lies ahead?

read more here @ The Guardian

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Review: Josephine: Singer Soldier Dancer Spy by Eilidh McGinness

Josephine: Singer Soldier Dancer SpySynopsis: Josephine Baker is born into poverty in racially segregated America. Desperate to escape she flees to France where she embraces the hedonistic lifestyle on offer for those who dare, in the Paris of the Roaring Twenties.

Hitler's rise to power in Germany forces her to face her true self. Determined to protect the Liberty Equality and Fraternity she has found in France, she becomes an 'honorable correspondent' for the French Secret Service. So, beginning a journey which will take her from the Red Cross Shelters in Paris to the cruel deserts of North Africa. She will find love and enduring friendship but she must also face dangers which will threaten not only her life but all she holds dear.....Can she find the courage to fight for what she believes matter what the cost? 

This could not have been more timely, having recently watched a documentary (April 2020) on this great woman!

Josephine Baker - IMDbJosephine Baker is the stuff of legends - one of those people whose life experiences one could not imagine belong to a single person. On these pages, McGinness brings to life the story of Josephine from her early childhood to her time in Paris and just after World War II.

The chapters are short and punchy, and I appreciated the dates as chapter headings to give us a sense of where we were in Josephine's story - sometimes we jump ahead by a few years. We get the full sense of segregated America - in fact the opening chapters grab you and hold you firmly in place.

Whilst this may be historical fiction, I urge the read to discover more about Josephine - for her story doesn't end there.

Review: The Raven Banner by Tim Hodkinson

The Raven Banner (The Whale Road Chronicles, #2)Synopsis: Iceland, AD 950: a young man must leave his homeland to forge his destiny, and find his father...

Einar Unnsson is destined to be a great Icelandic warrior. He has already defeated the men sent to kill him by his notorious father, Jarl Thorfinn, the 'Skull Cleaver' of Orkney. He has a gift that makes him lethal in battle. Yet he has cast it all off to be a bard.

When three men attack him, Einar's poetry provides little protection. Luckily, the skilled archer and Norse-Irish princess Affreca saves him. She'd assumed Einar had left to raise an army, challenge Thorfinn and seize the Jarldom of Orkney. Now she's determined to set him back onto his rightful path.

Einar soon finds himself entangled on Affreca's own mission. She's seeking the Raven Banner for King Eirik. Legend has it that the banner is imbued with powerful magic. That it was a gift from the Norse God Odin and any army that marches behind it will be victorious. The quest sets events in motion that are beyond Einar's control.

This is the thrilling follow-up to Odin's Game, and it does not disappoint!

Einar, Affreca and the Wolf Coats go in search of the mythical Raven Banner but fall foul of powerful enemies. We are all just taft pieces on the gameboard of the Gods." - and they certainly are as the embark on one adventure after the next.

But the journey is far from complete  ...... Einar's quest continues with The Wolf Hunt!

Review: Cry of Murder on Broadway by Julie Miller

Cry of Murder on Broadway A Woman's Ruin and Revenge in Old New YorkSynopsis: In Cry of Murder on Broadway, Julie Miller shows how a woman's desperate attempt at murder came to momentarily embody the anger and anxiety felt by many people at a time of economic and social upheaval and expanding expectations for equal rights.

On the evening of November 1, 1843, a young household servant named Amelia Norman attacked Henry Ballard, a prosperous merchant, on the steps of the new and luxurious Astor House hotel. Agitated and distraught, Norman followed Ballard down Broadway before confronting him at the door to the Astor House. Taking out a folding knife, she stabbed him, just missing his heart.

Ballard survived the attack, and the trial that followed created a sensation. Newspapers in New York and beyond followed the case eagerly, and crowds filled the courtroom every day. Prominent author and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, championed Norman and later included her story in her fiction and her writing on women's rights.

The would-be murderer also attracted the support of politicians, journalists, and legal and moral reformers who saw her story as a vehicle to change the law as it related to "seduction," and advocate for the rights of workers. Cry of Murder on Broadway describes how New Yorkers, besotted with the drama of the courtroom and the lurid stories of the penny press, followed the trial for sensation. Throughout all this, Norman gained the sympathy of New Yorkers, in particular the jury, which acquitted her in less than ten minutes.

Miller deftly weaves together Norman's story to show how, in one violent moment, she expressed all the anger that the women of the emerging movement for women's rights would soon express in words.

Andrea L. Hibbard and John T. Parry Law, Seduction, and the ...I will preface this with my notes when at Page 38: "I am going to admit that I am struggling to find some connection with this story. It starts, goes back, moves forward; it is flooded with so much (unnecessary) information that my mind is failing to absorb it all and sift through what is relevant and what is not. I shall no doubt keep persevering ... for the time being."

I will continue by saying that I skimmed through the rest of the book - unimpressed. Quite a lot of the information could easily have been curated and inserted into the trial component of the story. I was not interested in the (vast) biographical information on a number of other players - again these could easily have been significantly shortened.

As the focus of this book seemed to be on Lydia Maria Child, author and reformer, one wonders whether of not this book should have been about her with the account of Amelia Norman being given as illustrative of her actions (with others) in bringing about reform for women.

Amelia's (and Lydia's) story ends just under the halfway mark - the rest is taken up by sources, notes and bibliography. Had I realised just how this would be structured, I would have passed. 

Review: Unsolved London Murders: The 1920s and 1930s by Jonathan Oates

Unsolved London Murders: The 1920s and 1930sSynopsis: Unsolved crimes have a special fascination, none more so than unsolved murders. The shock of the crime itself and the mystery surrounding it, the fear generated by the awareness a killer on the loose, the insight the cases give into outdated police methods, and the chance to speculate about the identity of the killer after so many years have passed - all these aspects of unsolved murder cases make them compelling reading.

In this companion volume to his best-selling Unsolved Murders of Victorian and Edwardian London, Jonathan Oates has selected over 20 haunting, sometimes shocking cases from the period between the two world wars. Included are the shooting of PC James Kelly in Gunnersbury, violent deaths associated with Fenian Conspiracies, the stabbing of the French acrobat Martial Lechevalier in Piccadilly, the strychnine poisoning of egg-seller Kusel Behr, the killing by arsenic of three members of a Croydon family, and, perhaps most gruesome of all, the case of the unidentified body parts found at Waterloo Station.

A short introduction into policing in the 1920s and 1930s is followed by a chapter on crime between the wars. We are next treated to a nice little selection of vignettes of some of the unsolved cases from 1920s and 1930s London. They are not overly long - covering the who (victim), what (the murder), how (was it committed), and though some credible suspects lurk just off page and potential reasons given for the crimes, no-one has yet been brought to justice.

Definitely one for the fans of true crime - easily readable, and very accessible for a broader range of reader.

Review: the House Party by Mary Grand

The House PartySynopsis: At the intimate house-warming party for her glorious ‘grand design’, Kathleen confides in her best friend Beth that she is terrified of one of their close friends, but daren’t reveal which one. The guests are a tight-knit group, but Kathleen is convinced one of them is dangerous.

The next day Kathleen’s body is found at the foot of a cliff and Beth must face the sickening truth that she may have been killed by one of their trusted friends. With little help from the police, Beth’s decides to seek answers.

All the friends have secrets they are desperate to hide, but only one of them is ready to kill to keep theirs safe…

" ... like the moon ...... had a dark side none of us saw .."

A house party, a death, and a friend bent on discovering why. The more questions that are asked, there more secrets are being laid bare. Will there be resolution or another death.

The build up is slow and steady as one by one each person comes under closer scrutiny; alibis are checked and accounted; the truth slowly drawn out until we reach the only possible conclusion.

I enjoyed it - the characters fallible, the secrets plausable, the strength found to pursue this seemingly circular plot that folds in on itself over and again before forcing a denouement.

Although I took many (interrupted) days to finish this, my interest did not flag, the suspense hovered like a proverbial fog, hiding both killer and motive.

Looking forward to more from this author.

Reviews: Death in a Bookstore: An Inspector De Vincenzi Mystery by Augusto de Angelis

Death in a Bookstore: An Inspector De Vincenzi MysterySynopsis: When the clerk arrived to unlock the bookstore on Via Corridoni, the last thing he expected to find inside was a dead Senator. 

Now Inspector De Vincenzi has been assigned the case and the only clue is a missing copy of a rare book, La Zaffetta, taken from the room where the Senator lies dead. The Senator's murder is a live hand-grenade with no pin and the Superintendent has given Inspector De Vincenzi eight days to solve the murder . . . or else. As the bodies begin to pile up, supernatural forces seem to be at work. But it was no spirit that put a lead slug in the back of Senator Magni’s head.

Death in a Bookstore, one of De Angelis's best novels, is a psychological tour de force. Inspector De Vincenzi, "the first authentic Italian detective," doesn't just track down clues, he gets inside the heads of his suspects, with often stunning results. “You disregard evidence . . . appearances . . . earlier crimes. You disregard motives. You observe people, question them, examine them, judge them with your psychological method and then set them free, having decided that they cannot be guilty, because they lack the moral, intellectual, temperamental, or emotional capacity to commit a murder, this murder . . . Where will we end up, De Vincenzi? Your obsession with the psychology of murder is madness!”

While new to English readers, Inspector De Vincenzi is immensely popular in Italy, and is the protagonist of several best-selling novels as well as two Italian television series.

Yet another engaging journey into 1930s Milan and a crime involving the discovery of a body in a bookstore. Inspector de Vincenzi slowly pieces together the puzzle and lamented that "... this is one of those knotty cases, in which taking a false step means going back to the beginning ..". But we know that in the end, de Vincenzi will solve this crime.

Image result for augusto de angelisWhat I appreciated was the Foreward - this is a must read in itself, for we discover that under Mussolini, the detective novel was not only seized but destroyed, and de Angelis himself was a victim of the fascist dictator.

also by Augusto de Angelis:
> The Mystery of the Three Orchids
> The Hotel of the Three Roses
> The Murdered Banker

further reading:
> Politics and Society in Italian Crime Fiction: An Historical Overview by Barbara Pezzotti
> The Importance of Place in Contemporary Italian Crime Fiction: A Bloody Journey by Barbara Pezzotti

Review: The Search Party by Simon Lelic

The Search PartySynopsis: The entire town thinks Sadie Saunders is dead. Missing now for a week, they say she was murdered. And they think they know who did it.

Aware of the suspicion that surrounds them - and one of them in particular - Sadie's five best friends vow to find out the truth. So they pack their bags and set off for the woods where Sadie was last seen.

But what starts as a search quickly turns into something more sinister. Each of them has a secret, and they all know more about Sadie's past than they are willing to admit. As the landscape opens up, and the darkness closes in, the reality of their situation begins to dawn on them.

It was never really a search party. it was a witch hunt. And not everyone is going to make it home.

Wow. I actually really enjoyed this.

A missing girl; her teenage friends the obvious suspects; small town claustrophobia and prejudices; a search party that does not end in the spirit that it set out; obfuscation and misdirection (and not just on the part of the author!); clever use of the one sided interview to reveal the story from the perspective of the group - what more could a reader want!

Review: The Irish War of Independence and Civil War edited by John Gibney

The Irish War of Independence and Civil War
Synopsis: In the aftermath of the First World War, a political revolution took place in what was then the United Kingdom. Such upheavals were common in postwar Europe, as new states came into being and new borders were forged. What made the revolution in the UK distinctive is that it took place within one of the victor powers, rather than any of their defeated enemies.

In the years after the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland, a new independence movement had emerged, and in 1918-19 the political party Sinn Fein and its paramilitary partner, the Irish Republican Army, began a political struggle and an armed uprising against British rule.

By 1922 the United Kingdom has lost a very substantial portion of its territory, as the Irish Free State came into being amidst a brutal Civil War. At the same time Ireland was partitioned and a new, unionist government was established in what was now Northern Ireland. These were outcomes that nobody could have predicted before 1914. In The Irish War of Independence and Civil War, experts on the subject explore the experience and consequences of the latter phases of the Irish revolution from a wide range of perspectives.

Despite the number of pages, this was a lengthy read for me as the subject matter explored some very singular events and subjects that are an extension of the Irish Civil War of the 1920s.

This is niche content covering off specialised areas within the remit of Irish history. If you have no background in this subject matter, you will find it hard going as the authors of this collection of essays assume a prior and intimate knowledge.

Gibney notes that "... experts on the subject explore the experience and consequences of the latter phases of the Irish revolution from a wide range of perspectives ..." and topics covered range from a look at the files of the RIC collated within Dublin Castle; the Black and Tans; flirtations with Bolshevism and Fascism; the murder of the Mayor of Cork and the burning of Cork City from the perspective of the Fire Brigade; the use and fate of informers; social issues like the postal strike, the moratorium of public amusements as a form of protest, and a cricket match; before finishing off with a look at the women of Cumann na MBan.

For those for whom this is a particular area of study, this will make a nice addition to your required reading.

Review: Scotland Yard's Murder Squad by Dick Kirby

Scotland Yard's Murder SquadSynopsis: In 1906 the Metropolitan Police Commissioner was asked by the Home Office to make available skilled investigators for murder inquiries nationwide as few constabularies had sufficiently skilled - or indeed, any - detectives.

Thus was born the Reserve Squad, or Murder Squad, as it later became known. Despite a reluctance by some forces to call upon The Met, the Murder Squad has proved its effectiveness on countless occasions with its remit extended to British territories overseas. A particularly sensitive case was the murder of a local superintendent on St Kitts and Nevis.

A former Scotland Yard detective, the author uses his contacts and experiences to get the inside track on a gruesome collection of infamous cases. Child murderers, a Peer's butler, a King's housekeeper, gangsters, jealous spouses and the notorious mass murderer Dr Bodkin Adams compete for space in this spine-chilling and gripping book which is testament to the Murder Squad's skills and ingenuity - and the evil of the perpetrators.

Brimming with gruesome killings, this highly readable book proves that there is no substitute for old fashioned footwork and instinct. 

Met Police Flying Squad numbers cut as thieves give up old-school ...
Scene from the TV series The Sweeney
Kirby - through his vast experience and network of contacts from his Flying Squad days - is able to present an eclectic range of cases from the annals of Scotland Yard. After presenting us with a brief history, representing a nostalgic view of bygone times, we are launched into our first case, taking place at the turn of the 20th century. 

As with many of the earlier cases, forensics was in its infancy, and detectives were still expected to put in the hard slog and discover or reveal the evidence for themselves. Fingerprinting was in use as was the traditional "line up", but it was the sharp-eye witness and the sifting through the circumstantial evidence that aided in a conviction. Only one case presented featured the "court room confession" and a number of cases are still unsolved; and not all our suspects paid the ultimate price. We meet along the way a mixed bag of detectives - a "suspicion" of detectives if you like - and I enjoyed the "what happened to ..." at the end.

For those interested in true crime and / or police methods, this will prove an enjoyable read.

read also:
> Scotland Yard's Flying Squad by Dick Kirby
> The Sweeney by Dick Kirby

Review: Anna Komnene and the Alexiad by Loulia Kolovou

Anna Komnene and the Alexiad: The Byzantine Princess and the First CrusadeSynopsis: Anna Komnene is one of the most curious figures in the history of an intriguing empire. A woman of extraordinary education and intellect, she was the only Byzantine female historian and one of the first and foremost historians in medieval Europe. Yet few people know of her and her extraordinary story. Subsequent historians and scholars have skewed the picture of Anna as an intellectual princess and powerful author. She has been largely viewed as an angry, bitter old woman, who greedily wanted a throne that did not belong to her. Accusations of conspiracy and attempted murder were hurled at her and as punishment for her 'transgressions' she was to live the last days of her life in exile. It was during her time in a convent, where she was not a nun, that she composed the Alexiad, the history of the First Crusade and the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118), her father.

This book aims to present Anna Komnene - the fascinating woman, pioneer intellectual, and charismaticc author - to the general public. Drawing on the latest academic research to reconstruct Anna's life, personality and work, it moves away from the myth of Anna the conspirator and 'power-hungry woman' which has been unfairly built around her over centuries of misrepresentation. It places Anna Komnene in the context of her own time: the ancient Greek colony and medieval Eastern Roman empire, known as Byzantium, with the magnificent city of Constantinople at its heart. At the forefront of an epic clash between East and West, this was a world renowned for its dazzling wealth, mystery and power games. It was also known for a vigorous intellectual renaissance centuries before its western counterpart. This was a world with Anna Komnene directly at the centre. 

Whilst a little prior knowledge would be suggested, it is not necessary. Anyone with an interest in Byzantium, female historians, notable women, will find this to be a welcome addition to their own libraries.

Kolovou discusses Anna's family (important in the scheme of things), her birth, childhood, education, marriage - all though in the context of her father's reign as Emperor. Throughout, Kovolou uses many sources (including Anna's own words), not just those previously favoured by Western writers, to give a more rounded picture of Anna. Kovolou also addresses ambiguous passages or prior critiques of The Alexiad, and sets them up in the context that they were not only originally written but also according to Anna's own education and scholastic reading. Yes there were times when the author mentioned "more of that later" - only to indicate that the current discussion would not be derailed by going off topic midway through to pick up on something that would be presented in more detail - and in context - later on the book.

Most readers of The Alexiad will pick up this tome for Anna's detail on the First Crusade - and as has been mentioned, it is the only Greek source available. I myself was tempted on more than one occasion to pick up my copy of The Alexiad and read it in conjunction with Kovolou's work - indeed, the author says at the end that it is her hope that the reader will do just that!

With a glossary of terms, maps, family trees a timeline for Anna herself, and an easy narrative, the reader will have no trouble following the story of this remarkable woman and her creation - The Alexiad.

Review: Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir

Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking WorldSynopsis: Valkyries: the female supernatural beings that choose who dies and who lives on the battlefield. They protect some, but guide spears, arrows and sword blades into the bodies of others. Viking myths about valkyries attempt to elevate the banality of war – to make the pain and suffering, the lost limbs and deformities, the piles of lifeless bodies of young men, glorious and worthwhile. Rather than their death being futile, it is their destiny and good fortune, determined by divine beings. The women in these stories take full part in the power struggles and upheavals in their communities, for better or worse.

Drawing on the latest historical and archaeological evidence, Valkyrie introduces readers to the dramatic and fascinating texts recorded in medieval Iceland, a culture able to imagine women in all kinds of roles carrying power, not just in this world, but pulling the strings in the other-world, too. In the process, this fascinating book uncovers the reality behind the myths and legends to reveal the dynamic, diverse lives of Viking women.

This insightful and authoritative work will make an excellent companion to Women in the Viking Age and Women in Old Norse Society: A Portrait. The author makes extensive use of the mythology, archaeology and sagas to provide a valuable look at how women were perceived in Viking society.

Review: The Paris Mysteries by Edgar Allen Poe

The Paris MysteriesSynopsis: Three macabre and confounding mysteries for the first and greatest of detectives, Auguste Dupin.

An apartment on the rue Morgue turned into a charnel house; the corpse of a shopgirl dragged from the Seine; a high-stakes game of political blackmail - three mysteries that have enthralled the whole of Paris, and baffled the city’s police. The brilliant Chevalier Auguste Dupin investigates - can he find the solution where so many others before him have failed?

These three stories from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe are some of the most influential ever written, widely praised and credited with inventing the detective genre. This edition contains: ’The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ’The Mystery of Marie Rogêt’ and ’The Purloined Letter’. 

Apart from "the Raven" and the "Tell-Tale Heart", I had not read anything else from Poe. I was acquainted with "The Murders of Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter" but had read neither. I did enjoy these two, however, the second story, "the Mystery of Marie Rogers", I disliked only because it seemed to re-hash information time and again, dragging out the story to the point I just skipped through.

I would not really put these into the category of detective fiction as Dupin just has monologue after monologue, there is no real investigation.

I have done my due diligence and have read them, but not likely to again.