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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

‘Wrath of the Furies’ by Steven Saylor

Published by Constable,
9 March 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-4721-0199-0

It is 88B.C. And in a fragment from the secret diary of the poet Antipater of Sidon details are given of the intended extinction of all Romans living under the control of King Mithridates.

Antipater fears for the life of his pupil and friend the Roman, Gordianus who he hopes is living far away. We then meet Gordianus himself living near Alexandria with his slave Bethesda. He receives a scroll written by Antipater saying how he fears for his life in Ephesus.

Believing it has been sent by Antipater himself Gordianus devises a plan in which he intends going to Ephesus to rescue his friend. He will go as a mute to seek a cure from the goddess Artemis and Bethesda will go with him to act as his voice. Although he speaks Greek he has a strong Roman accent which would give him away. He buys a passage for them on a ship sailing for Ephesus via Rhodes. Gordianus has a friend Posidonus living on Rhodes and they stay the night with him. Whilst there he reluctantly agrees to act as a spy in the court of King Mithridates where he believes Antipater is living.

So begins a dangerous assignment in Ephesus and it becomes increasingly difficult for Gordianus to keep up his act of a mute. There are enemies at every turn, not least of which is the nasty vindictive little wife of Mithridates.

It is made clear that Gordianus is wanted to act as a mute witness to a ritual which involves a human sacrifice. It is worse still when it is revealed that the sacrifice is to be someone he knows. Can he save them? Who can he trust at the palace to help him and where is Antipater?

The ritual is to be followed by the massacre of the Romans as described in Antipater's scroll. Will Gordianus be able to prevent such a horror?

A really good tale which brings the ancient world to life.

On reading the Author's Notes I understand that many of the incidents described in the book actually took place making it even more interesting. Recommended for those who enjoy an exciting thriller set in ancient times.
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

Steven Saylor was born in Texas in 1956 and graduated with high honors from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied history and Classics. He divides his time between homes in Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas. "If I could have another home," he says, "it would definitely be in London, my favourite big city in the world." When not using his brain, he likes to keep in shape running, swimming, and lifting weights.
Steven's books have been published in 21 languages, and book tours have taken him across the United States, England, and Europe. He has appeared as an expert on Roman life on The History Channel, and has spoken at numerous college campuses, The Getty Villa, and the International Conference on the Ancient Novel.

Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf  (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Simon & Schuster Crime Showcase.

22 March 2017

Phoenix Artist Club
1 Phoenix St. London


Authors attending

Kate Rhodes
RJ Bailey
Chris Carter
Sandrone Dazieri
Alan Judd
Sophie McKenzie
Craig Robertson
Mikel Santiago
Sarah Vaughan
Luca Veste
Andrew Wilson

A fun evening was had by all.

‘The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

Published by Viking, 
2 March 2017. 
ISBN: 978-0-241-97803-0 (HB)

Matthew Hopkins, dubbed the Witchfinder General, has to qualify as one of history's most notorious characters. He was directly responsible for the deaths of over a hundred women in East Anglia in the mid-17th century, all convicted of witchcraft on his say-so and little actual evidence.

Beth Underdown's account of his travels through Essex and Suffolk, seeking out women accused by other people who clearly had a grudge against them, is told through the eyes of his fictional sister Alice. She returns to her birthplace after an unspecified number of years, widowed, pregnant and with little choice other than to throw herself on her brother's charity – which comes at a price. She is required to accompany him, and examine the accused women for 'witch's marks', a task she carries out reluctantly and with great scepticism.

Matthew bears the scars of a horrific childhood accident, and it is strongly implied that there are worse scars of an emotional and psychological kind, not all them caused by the accident. Whatever his motivation, he soon becomes the most hated man in the area; Alice's attempts to temper his excesses meet with little success, and she suffers both for him and with him.

It's hard to credit that this compellingly disturbing tale is Beth Underdown's debut novel – though her background as a lecturer in creative writing indicates a lot of experience in wordcraft. She contrives to give Alice's voice the ring of 17th century truth, but with a clarity and punch which belongs firmly in 2017. Her characters, especially the women, both victims and lookers-on, sit comfortably in the roles she creates for them, and the sense of place is almost tactile.

The plot is not so much plot as account of the travesties Matthew Hopkins perpetrated, laced with background from the past he shares with Alice, and her own recent history – though there is a story arc, and a climactic moment when Alice reaches the end of any semblance of patience and understanding. There is even a tiny twist at the very end, designed, I'm sure, to make the alert reader give a little gasp as the future reveals itself.

The Witchfinder's Sister is as accomplished a debut novel as they come; the history feels right, and the powerful narrative holds the reader in thrall right to the final page.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.
The Witchfinder’s Sister is her debut novel, and is based on the life of the 1640s witch finder Matthew Hopkins.  She first came across him while reading a book about seventeenth-century midwifery. As you do.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

‘Beyond all Doubt' by Paige Elizabeth Turner

Published by Matador,
28 January 2017.
ISBN 978-1-78589-884-6

The book starts with an undetected murder, described by the murderer!  Not surprising for a crime fiction book, of course, but the reader is left in a situation where the murder and its consequences run in parallel with the detection.  The DI is Michael Marchant, a somewhat unappealing middle aged man with some antediluvian attitudes.  Working with him is DS Olivia Watts, a bright girl whose insights are not always welcomed by Marchant.

The victim is identified by her fiancé, Trevor Taylor, and the team soon work out that she fell from a cruise boat on the river Avon.  There is a further death of a girl in Evesham who was stabbed outside a local pub.  While Marchant investigates the cruise boat owner and captain, Olivia makes further investigations into the first victim's fiancé.

After a third death an arrest is made and a tense trial ensues.  The verdict is reached with some difficulty in the jury room but then further complications follow.  The story is well told though the atmosphere is bleak.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
Paige Elizabeth Turner already has a follow up adventure for Olivia in the pipeline.

Paige Elizabeth Turner has worked across a variety of industries from retail fashion through to transport police. Those roles, interacting with most sectors of the public and legal system, have equipped Paige with the necessary knowledge to develop the plot and characters of her novel. Paige has supported that experience with specific writing studies.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

‘Fifth Column’ by David R. Ewens

Published by Grosvenor House Publishing,
20 September 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-78263-027-0 (PB)

This is the fourth in the author’s series featuring private investigator Frank Sterling who operates from the fictitious East Kent seaside town of Sandley. It opens with Sterling’s friend Mike Strange, former spy but keeping a pub also in Sandley, meeting in a café in Waterloo with a man called Mohamed. Mohamed has, it appears, infiltrated a terrorist gang, motivated not by ideology nor by religious zeal, but purely by money, to carry out terrorist attacks for whoever pays them. This time, it appears, the planned target is somewhere on the south coast but what and when is contained on several password-protected memory sticks which Mohamed passes on to Strange. But Strange becomes aware that he is being followed and so when he returns to Sandley he passes the memory sticks to Sterling before his pursuers can catch him. Now it is Sterling who must evade capture, and who is in peril especially when Strange’s pursuers catch up with Strange and torture him until, under extreme duress, he discloses that the sticks have been passed to Sterling. So Sterling has to go on the run and, although he is able to depend on various friends including his teenage sweetheart Stacey Sunnington, now divorced and with a computer-savvy teenage daughter Olivia, time and time again he has to rely on his own courage and resourcefulness until his adventures achieve a successful but unexpected conclusion.

I think that, apart from the Waterloo station café, all the locations are fictitious. They are, however, vivid and meticulously imagined, perhaps based on real-life East Kent towns. The many characters are also strong, realistic and many-faceted. This is a lively and fast-paced read.
Reviewer: Radmila May

David R Ewens was born in Scotland and spent an early short part of his life in Australia. Subsequently he was brought up and received his full time education in East Anglia. He lives and writes in Kent, where he has been based for many years. After a career in further and adult education, including work in policy and research, he has written four novels and some short stories.
His writing has been influenced by lifelong experience of progressive deafness, eased recently by a cochlear implant.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.