Kanti's Books

Some new ones, some old ones. "The oldest books are only just out for those who have not read them." (Samuel Butler)

 

I read Historical Fiction, Fantasy of all kinds, especially anything involving time travel or a time-slip, and I lap up well-written contemporary Crime, Mystery and Spy stories.

 

I am very fussy about shoddy editing. This annoys me even more than illiterate wannabe authors thinking they can get away with no editing at all.

 

Which brings me to poetry. I love reading good poetry, poetry that has been worked on and crafted as an artist works on and crafts a painting or an actor works on and crafts a performance. Poetry which is a work of art. 

Maniacal

Maniacal: A Detective Jade Monroe Crime Thriller Book 1 (Volume 1) - C.M. Sutter

Mostly, I only post reviews of books I strongly recommend - 4 stars at least. This partly because I do a lot of DNFing; if a story doesn't grab me pretty quickly, I tend to move on to the next book waiting impatiently in my two ever-growing TBR piles (the paper one and the digital one). Hey, life is short! 

 

With this one - Maniacal - it was touch and go for the first half of the book - a police procedural which was 90% police procedure. Then it began to liven up and I did, eventually, to my own surprise, actually finish the book and realise it was two o'clock in the morning. 

 

If you enjoy police procedurals, then this might be just your coffee and doughnut. If you don't, then give it a miss. Oh, and I did like Detective Sergeant Jade Monroe so perhaps I will return for more.

The Raven

The Raven - Jeremy Bishop

It is rare for a sequel or the second in a series to be as good as the original story, the one that first presented the reader with this new world, these new characters. It is even rarer for it to be better. But The Raven is definitely more exciting, more of a page-turner, than the very good The Sentinel.

 

Jane Harper has been trapped in Greenland since the close of the first adventure when, unsurprisingly, virtually no one believes her story of what happened to the crews of the whaler and the anti-whaling ship that both sank following a ramming incident and an explosion. Unsurprisingly because the story she tells is replete with thousand-year-old zombie Vikings, and - worse still in the opinion of the media who decide what people shall and shall not believe - zombie polar bears and narwhals and whales.

 

Now though, the only other survivors, the elderly Captain of the whaler and his son, return to the island where it all began, intent on saving the world from the (alien) parasite that causes this living death, and they give Jane little choice but to accompany them.

 

I don't want to spoil the story. I will simply say that if you enjoyed The Sentinel, don't miss The Raven. And if you haven't read The Sentinel, then read it first: this book, The Raven, is not a stand-alone.

 

Music of the Distant Stars

Music of the Distant Stars - Alys Clare

England, the 1080s

 

The singer watched as the young girl with the copper-coloured hair and the boyish figure wrested open the door of the little house and disappeared inside. You hear me, don't you, lass? he thought. You listen to my song and you go rigid as you perceive my pain. You have a good heart and I'm sorry that I frighten you.

He heard footsteps on the path: a quick, light step that he recognized as belonging to the older woman who lived in the little house. He slipped back into his hiding place and watched as she hurried up to the door and let herself in. She was a healer; his sense of smell was strong, and he could detect her profession from the scent of her clothes, as he could from those of the copper-haired girl. The house itself smelt of clean, fresh things: of herbvs and fresh-cut grass. He liked the smell. He liked being close to the house. It gave him comfort, of a sort.

But there was no real comfort, not any more. His world had come to an end. He was alone, away from the place he had known all his life. He felt the great surge of anguish rise up in him, and a few notes of his song emerged from his lips. As if the music lanced his pain, for a few moments it eased.

Music. There was always the music.

 

This is the third of the Aelf Fen Mysteries featuring the healer Lassair and written by Alys Clare, the author of the perhaps better-known Hawkenlye novels. The Aelf Fen Mysteries are set in a slightly earlier period than those, soon after the Norman Conquest when the victors of Hastings were still hated strangers in the land. Two of Lassaire's uncles had died at Hastings, as had the fathers, husbands, brothers and sons of much of the population – a thing not easily forgotten or forgiven.

 

Lassair is a seventeen-year-old apprentice healer, whose family live in the Fenland village of Aelf Fen, though she herself now lives and studies with her aunt, the local wise woman, herbalist, midwife and – whisper it! – witch.

 

At dawn one midsummer morning, Lassair sets out for the community's burial island, sent by her aunt to put a fresh flower garland on the stone slab that covered the grave of her recently deceased grandmother, Cordeilla. She also has with her the symbols of earth, air, fire and water intended to summon spirits to help her in her prayers. It is still dark, but Lassair has no trouble finding the path through the treacherous swamps and bogs, for she is a dowser who can "see hidden tracks and pathways that are all but invisible to others." She is very sensitive. She is also very superstitious.

 

Suddenly my feet seemed to freeze to the ground and I could not move. I stood on the narrow path, my heart thumping so hard it hurt. [...] The path still glowed faintly, but on either side the land was clothed in its thick-leafed summer foliage, providing far too many places where someone bent on harming me could hide.

I was not afraid of ill-intentioned humans, however. The entities I dreaded had no need of hiding places, for they were, I was quite sure, perfectly capable of invisibility. They could creep up me without my suspecting a thing, and the first I would know was when icy fingers clutched at my throat and supernaturally strong arms thrust my head down into the black waters till I drwoned and went to join their grey, shimmering company ...

With a great effort, I commanded myself not to be so fanciful and cowardly.

 

Teeth chattering with fear, she makes way way across onto the island, only to discover that someone has moved the slab of stone. And peering in, that there are now two bodies in the grave.

 

Whoever moved the slab of stone put that other body in there, she realises. And that person wanted to conceal the body. That person was a murderer!

 

This is all too much for her, and she goes racing back to her aunt.

 

The dead body turns out to be that of a pregnant girl much the same age as Lassair herself. Her name was Ida, and she was seamstress to a rather unpleasant Norman lady. It also turns out that that Norman lady's fiancé, Sir Alain, was rather fonder of Ida that he was was of the Norman lady. Was he the murderer? No one could possibly suggest it, for not only was he a Norman, but he was the local justiciar. And anyway, Lassair rather likes him.

 

No, the chief suspect seems to be a certain Derman, the village idiot, who "looks like a gargoyle and frightens little children", but himself has the mind of a child. And Derman is the brother of the gorgeous Zarina, whom Lassair's own brother, Haward, plans to marry. Only Zarina won't marry him because, she says, she will not impose her brother on him. So wouldn't it suit Haward very well for Derman to be found guilty of the murder? – or so some people can't help wondering.

 

But who is the "invisible singer", a minstrel who seems to have been in love with the dead girl? He is surely unlikely to have been the murderer, but he could have been the father of her unborn baby.

 

All very complicated – and full not only of the magic and mystery we have come to expect from this very special author, but of a love of, and knowledge of, the English countryside that is, in my experience, quite unique among medieval mystery writers.

Speak Less than Thou Knowest

I try not to be pedantic, but this post (below) claiming to answer the question What is the correct usage of "thy"and "thou"?, really got up my nose. It is just so pretentious and so likely to further spread the culture of self-satisfied ignorance that is affecting - infecting - the world.

 

In King Lear (Act I, Scene IV), Shakespeare writes "Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest." Less, not more - and that would be good advice for many of the self-proclaimed experts that infest the internet. When English verbs are conjugated, THOU (Second Person Singular) is followed by the (e)st ending, thou showest, thou knowest. The (e)th ending goes with the Third Person Singular (HE, SHE, IT) - he showeth, he knoweth. Other examples are thou hast/he hath, thou dost/he doth. And from Shakespeare, God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another, and To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

 

All of which leads us to: THOU ASKEST (or HE/SHE ASKETH) A GOOD QUESTION - not the illiterate absurdity reproduced below.

 

 

The Gods Themselves

The Gods Themselves - Isaac Asimov

One of the great classic works of SF. 

 

The title is part of a line from a play ("The Maid of Orleans") by the German poet Friedrich Schiller: Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.

 

In the first part of the book, Against Stupidity, the problem of free, clean energy has finally been solved, and the scientist who came up with the solution is universally lauded. Oh, there are a few scientists who consider the whole system, which involves exchanging matter with a para-universe, inherently dangerous, but they are dismissed by everyone as trouble-makers. (And their careers as scientists brought to a dead stop if they dare to speak out.)

 

In Part II, The Gods Themselves, we find ourselves in that "para-universe". This is a stunning creation and the book should be read to experience this other world if for no other reason. It is so, so different, yet so, so believable and real ... and yes, of course, the stupid rule the roost there, too.

 

In Part III, we are on the Moon - our Moon - and again the book would be worth reading just for this depiction of what life on the Moon might be like. This Part is naturally entitled Contend in Vain, but with an important question mark: Contend in Vain? 

 

It would be too easy to spoil this wonderful story, so I will simply finish by saying how happy I am to have rediscovered my early love of Isaac Asimov (my grandmother had all his books) and that I plan on re-reading many more of them.

 

 

The Subtle Serpent

The Subtle Serpent - Peter Tremayne

A Celtic Mystery featuring Sister Fidelma

 

Ireland , AD 666

 

Sister Síomha turned slowly wondering what Brónach was staring at in such a horror-struck fashion.

What she saw made her raise a hand to her mouth as if to suppress a cry of fear.

Hanging by one ankle, which was secured to the rope on which the pail was usually suspended, was a naked female body. It was still glistening white from its immersion in the icy water of the deep well. The body was hanging head downwards so that the upper part of the torso, the head and shoulders, were beyond their view being hidden in the well-head.

[...]

Sister Síomha moved to the well-head and peered down, hands reaching forward to swing the body out of the well. Then, with a sharp cry which she could not stifle, she turned away, her face becoming a mask of shocked surprise.

Curious, Sister Brónach moved forward and peered into the well-head. In the semi-gloom of the well she saw that where the head of the body should have been was nothing. The body had been decapitated. What remained of the neck and shoulders were stained dark with blood.

 

In the Abbey of the Salmon of the Three Wells, the naked and mutilated corpse of a young woman is discovered in one of the wells. She had been whipped, her head had been hacked off – so there was no means of identifying her – and tied to her left arm was a stick of aspen wood on which Ogham characters had been carved. The Ogham read: "Bury her well. The Mórrigú has awakened!" In her other hand, by contrast, she still clasped a copper crucifix.

 

A great mystery, and Fidelma is sent to try to solve it. She travels by ship, for the abbey is on the coast, and as they are nearing their destination they sight  a French merchant vessel heading erratically towards some submerged rocks. Ross, the captain of Fidelma's ship, investigates.  It turns out that the French ship has been abandoned. Apart from a few traces of blood, there is no sign of either crew or passengers, or of cargo.

 

Another great mystery.

 

But then Fidelma finds a Missal she recognises. She had given it to her friend Brother Eadulf when she parted from him in Rome. How had it come to be here? Yet another mystery – and now Fidelma has a personal interest in solving it.

 

Those of us who have read later stories in the series will by now be completely hooked, for we already know that Eadulf is fated to become Fidelma's "Watson". Will it happen here, in this book, we wonder – our sympathies all with Eadulf, for Fidelma can be quite as clever, as arrogant and as sarcastic as Sherlock Holmes ever was.  

 

As always with this series, then: highly recommended.

The Sentinel - A Jane Harper Horror Novel

The Sentinel (A Jane Harper Horror Novel) - Jeremy Bishop

It all starts when an anti-whaling ship rams a whaler off the coast of Greenland and the whaler, instead of turning the other cheek, rams it right back, rather more disastrously. But then the whaler explodes.

 

How? Why? What happened?

 

Read it and see. Then follow the adventures of the few survivors on a frozen island inhabited by "draugre", Viking revenants - zombies under another, older name.

 

I liked the narrator, Jane Harper, a real kick-ass ex-military-brat, who responds with a sarcastic quip to everything Greenland and the paranormal can throw at her, but I have to say that while I found the story and the setting exciting I didn't really get any feeling of "horror" - as promised in the subtitle.

 

As a horror story I would say it fails - 3 stars at most. As a thriller with an unusual setting and a very strong female protagonist, it succeeds - 4 or 5 stars.

 

So 4 stars.

 

And I shall definitely read the sequel, The Raven.

 

 

YOUR BODIES MANY CRIES FOR WATER

Your Body's Many Cries for Water - Fereydoon Batmanghelidj

Probably the single most important thing we can do for ourselves when we are unwell is drink more water.

 

You are not sick, you are thirsty.”

 

But not only when we are unwell. We need water, lots of water, to keep us well, says Dr Batmanghelidj in his best-selling book Your Body’s Many Cries For Water.

 

Read it, if you can get hold of a copy. But in brief, he tells us that our bodies require an absolute minimum of six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. And that means water, not coffee or tea, or fruit juice, or any other beverage. Water, plain and simple.

These six glasses would ideally be drunk as follows: one half an hour before each meal, and one two-and-a-half hours after each meal.

 

But that is the minimum, remember. We should also wash our food down with some water, and drink more water whenever we feel thirsty. Not only when we feel thirsty, though, but also when we feel hungry for a snack outside our regular meal-times: the body, especially as it grows older, becomes incapable of distinguishing thirst from hunger. While young people, who do know when they are thirsty, tend to quench that thirst with rubbish instead of water, many older people don’t believe they are thirsty at all and if given a glass of water just sip at it, merely wetting their mouths and throats and convinced that that is all they need.

 

As simply as dehydration will in time produce the major diseases we are confronting now. a well regulated and constantly alert intention to daily water intake will help to prevent the emergence of most of the major diseases we have come to fear in our modern society.”

Shroud of Dishonour

Shroud of Dishonour - Maureen Ash

A Templar Knight Mystery

 

Lincoln, May, 1202

 

It was not the third but the fifth book in this series which came my way - I am working serendipitously here with second-hand paperbacks - and this one opens with an unusual and mysterious Prologue: two Knights Templar outside a brothel in the suburbs of Acre (in Outremer, the Holy Land), one reluctant to enter, the other determined to go in and do his business – which is not, as it happens, what you might expect.

 

It is a story that would be all too easy to spoil by inadvertently blurting out "spoilers"; suffice it to say that what happens there, then, is intimately connected with the death a few months later in Lincoln of two prostitutes, and an attack on a third who manages to defend herself with a sharp little knife she carries on her belt (wise girl). (Though no doubt in modern Britain she would be charged with assault and being in possession of a deadly weapon.)

 

Why prostitutes? wonders our hero, Sir Bascot de Marins. Because they are easy victims, peculiarly vulnerable and defenceless? Yet the killer seems to be targeting the Templars rather than prostitutes as a group: he makes each murder look as though it had been committed by a member of the Order.

 

Or is the killer in fact a member of the Order?

 

Bascot, who first came to Lincoln (with Gianni, a starving street-kid he had picked on his travels, tagging along) in order to recuperate after eight years as a captive – a slave – in the Middle East, has now rejoined the Order and is due to sail for Portugal, where the Templars are committed to aiding the Portuguese in their fight against the Moors. But of course he is roped in to assist in the investigation and driven by his hatred of cold-blooded murder of the innocent and defenceless he does so with his usual quiet modesty.

 

But will he go to Portugal when all this is sorted out? Will the next Templar Knight Mystery be set there, among the olives and the orange trees? Or will this be the last of these books? You have to read to the very end to find out – and to find out who has been going around killing working girls, and why.

 

I love this series set in my second favourite period (the 12th and early 13th centuries), in this case during the reign of King John, son of Henry II (though the King himself does not appear in this story). 

The Alehouse Murders

The Alehouse Murders - Maureen Ash

The first of the Templar Knight Mysteries

 

Lincoln, AD 1200

 

No one had been told why the Templar was in Lincoln. Gerard Camville had said in passing that de Marins had been on crusade in the Holy Land with the now-dead King Richard back in '91, and had been captured by the Saracens during a skirmish near Acre at the end of that year. After eight long years of captivity he had recently escaped. It was obvious that he had been tortured during his incarceration, for he wore a leather patch over the eye-socket of his missing right eye and walked with a pronounced limp. When, early one morning, he came into the hall to break his fast after attending Mass in the castle chapel, all eyes had turned his way but, although polite, he had said nothing of his past and seemed disinclined to talk about it. [...]

As he began to recover his health, he had taken to practising his combative skills in the yard, first with a blunted sword against the wooden stake erected for the purpose, and finally with Ernulf in mock battle using both sword and shield. While he seemed to have regained his former weight, his prowess with a sword was hampered by the lameness of his leg and the blindness of one eye. For all that, he still made a formidable opponent for Ernulf, who needed all the tricks he had learned in his many years as a soldier to keep pace with the Templar.

 

The scene is Lincoln Castle one year early in the reign of bad King John – though no one here seems particularly against him, or to remember his brother Richard the Lionheart with any affection. They do look back on the days of Richard and John's father, Henry II, and his queen, Eleanor, as "the good old days", but that is normal, as is one very bright old lady being scornful about Eleanor's "Courts of Love".

 

It is high summer. The Sheriff of Lincoln, Gerard Camville, is out hawking by the river with his wife, Lady Nicolaa de la Haye, and their attendants, when urgent news arrives: four people have been found dead in a local alehouse. It is Nicolaa who goes to sort out the problem. She is the chatelaine of the castle, her father's heir, and tends to run things her way, with the compliance of her husband, who just wants to be left in peace to enjoy his knightly pursuits.

 

The man Nicolaa calls upon to investigate the murders, Sir Bascot de Marins, is one of the most interesting sleuths I have come across in years of reading such books. He is a Templar Knight on a kind of extended sick leave after spending eight years as a captive and slave in the Middle East and finally escaping to Cyprus. He is unsure whether he wishes to remain with the Order and his superiors show great (to me surprising) sympathy. D'Arderon, the officer in charge of the Lincoln Preceptory, has introduced him to Lady Nicolaa, and he has been given a room in the castle which he shares with a mute Sicilian street-kid he fed at some point on his travels and who has followed him like a dog ever since.

 

As you watch this man, wounded in body and soul, deal with these murders, with those around him, high and low, and with his own personal problems, I am sure that you, like me, will be thinking about getting hold of the second (and third!) books in the series while you are still only half-way through this one.

Unpretentious and excellent.

 

The Tower's Alchemist

The Tower's Alchemist (The Gray Tower Trilogy, #1) - Alesha Escobar

I received a free copy of this book from the Author Marketing Club in return

for an honest review

 

.

 

"British intelligence wants her spying skills. A vampiric warlock wants to steal her powers. The Master Wizards who trained her want her dead…"

 

The Tower's Alchemist, the first book of The Gray Tower Trilogy,  has an authentic WWII setting among spies and resistance fighters in Denmark, France, Spain and, of course, London.

 

The protagonist, Isabella (aka Emelie and Noelle) is an alchemist, one of the magicians working with the Allies against Hitler's Black Wolves (a kind of supernatural Gestapo). I identified with her immediately, from the very first paragraph, and stayed with her all the way through - no changes of viewpoint, thank heaven (or rather, thank Alesha Escobar). There is, however, an array of well-drawn characters surrounding her, many of whom elicit our sympathy - indeed, our love - as they struggle on against a seemingly invincible foe.

 

A great read if you are a WWII buff (I am), especially if you also suspect that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes in this world than 99.9% of us are ever aware of.

All Good Deeds

All Good Deeds (A Lucy Kendall Thriller) (Lucy Kendall #1) (The Lucy Kendall Series) - Stacy Green The Four Just Men - Edgar Wallace

Quite by chance, I started on All Good Deeds   while in the middle of re-reading Edgar Wallace's The Four Just Men, so I had a couple of days of vigilante justice delivered in two very different styles, one set in Edwardian London in 1914, the other in present-day Pennsylvania. And while the heroes of the London story are cultured middle-aged males (there are only three of them, actually) the protagonist of the modern story is a pushy, opinionated young woman who goes rushing in where "just men" would – no, not fear to tread, but certainly think very, very carefully before they trod.

 

Lucy's one concern – and It's become an obsession – is abused children. Years ago when she was working for the Child Protection Services, she was responsible for monitoring a boy of eleven who had been allowed to go on living with his family against her advice and had then murdered his nine-year-old sister. The boy, Justin, subsequently spent several years in juvenile prison but was later released back into society without being tagged as a child-molester. Lucy fought against his release because she considered him a danger but she was overuled by the judge.

 

Now a nine-year-old girl called Kailey has disappeared, been kidnapped, and Justin not only lives right there in the immediate neighbourhood but turns out to have been in direct contact with the girl prior to her disappearance.

 

So far as Lucy is concerned, she was right all along and this is an open-and-shut case. When she learns that the Detective in charge of the investigation is Justin's half-brother and that he insists there is no evidence against Justin, she starts taking things into her own hands. Not for the first time. Several pedophiles who had evaded official justice have already met their maker after a brief encounter with her.

 

But further developments sow doubts in the reader's mind about Justin being in any real sense a pedophile, or dangerous. And a young man approaches Lucy in a bar and informs her that he knows her secret: a word from him to the police would result in Lucy being arrested and charged with a whole series of murders.

 

The reader is torn in two.

 

Great writing.

 

But the moral of the story? All Good Deeds is described as "a psychological thriller". I'm not sure what that means. That the bad guys have psychological problems? Well, yes, but so does Lucy, when judged by normal standards of behaviour in any civilised society.

 

I wonder where this will go in the second book in the series ...

 

And The Four Just Men? It is a classic. A little slow perhaps (life then was slower) but essential reading. If you haven't read it, read it. You can download it almost free from Amazon and completely free here.

Unstoppable: My Life So Far - Maria Sharapova

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalleyin exchange for an honest review.

 

I have to admit that I have been a fan of Maria Sharapova's since she won Wimbledon, beating the seemingly unbeatable Serena Williams, at the age of seventeen. And why "admit", as though there were something shameful about it? She was, and still is, a great player whom the mass-media made into an instant celebrity because not only did she look like being very soon the best tennis-player in the world but she was also one-in-a-million beautiful. And what the mass-media create they are always happy to destroy again.

 

All right, in a sense the mass-media are simply agents of the Wheel of Fortune. Maria Sharapova had after all begun at the bottom.

 

Before opening this book, I knew about her injuries, how her shoulder had to be operated on, and how hard it was for her to work her way back up through the ranks with a different and much less deadly serve. But she did come back up, and won, among other titles and grand slams, the French Open. The sneering and contempt (Maria is finished, done for) became once again jealousy, pure and simple. Much of the jealousy based on total ignorance of her family background, the assumption being that she was a spoilt brat, one of the entitled daughters of the super-rich, in this case the post-communist Russsian super-rich.

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Her father was a worker without two roubles to rub together. Quite by chance, at the age of four, little Masha (her real name) was noticed by none other than Martina Navratilova - a chance meeting if ever there was one! - when she was knocking a ball about with an old unwanted racket someone had given her father in lieu of payment. Martina spotted the fire, the determination, in the small child's eyes as she swung the huge racket. "Take her to America," she told Masha's father.

 

And astonishingly he did. They arrived without a word of English, penniless and homeless. They had no one but each other, and for the next few years he worked as a labourer to pay Masha's fees at tennis school and maintain some kind of home for himself and her in the cheapest posssible rented rooms. They even shared a sagging sofa bed.

 

After a few years, her mother finally managed to get a visa to leave Russia ans she joined them in the States. Masha began winning junior tournaments, things began to look up, and Maria – yes, Maria now – got a sponsorship from Nike.

 

In Unstoppable you will read all about the years of struggle and the years of success – and then the sudden catastrophic scandal: Maria Sharapova had been taking drugs!

The media immediately set about destroying her. Nor did they retract their lies (do they ever?) when the authorities declared publicly that Maria had never knowingly consumed any prohibited substance, and that the medication she was using (meldonium, which she had been taking for 10 years after her doctor recommended it for health problems including an irregular heartbeat) had been placed on the list of banned substances without her knowledge and was not, anyway, "performance-enhancing". No, the mass-media left her body lying at the side of the road where they had deposited it after they crucified her.

 

Alone, now, she has got back up and, in the American Open a few weeks ago, unexpectedly defeated Simona Halep, the current World Number Two, before herself being knocked out in the next round.

 

But she is back playing against, and defeating, top-level performers. My heart goes with her!

Spider Bones

Spider Bones - Kathy Reichs

I read this author's Grave Secrets (Kindle Edition) a long while ago but I never followed it up, nor have I ever seen the Bones series on TV, so when I spotted this on a shelf of second-hand books I had little to go on.  Yet suddenly I knew that Tempe Brennan, forensic anthropologist, was someone I wanted to know more of.

 

At the front of the book, after the dedication, is a page bearing the following words:

 

 'Until They Are Home'
The motto of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command

 

This is the background to this novel. POW/MIA is Prisoners of War/Missing in Action, and we learn all about the activities of this admirable adjunct of the military: just how much time and money is spent on retrieving the body of a serviceman who may have been dead for decades and repatriating him to his homeland.

 

Tempe is called upon to examine a body found floating in a pond in Montreal. To everyone's astonishment, the fingerprints turn out to be those of a soldier killed in Vietnam and subsequently brought home and buried in his hometown in North Carolina. How can this be? Whose body is in fact buried in that grave?

 

The exhumation of that body, instead of clearing up the mystery only makes it worse. An unforeseen and inexplicable link to Hawai means Tempe must go there to continue her investigation, and Tempe's ex-, Ryan, joins her there, along with his daughter Lucy and Tempe's daughter Katy, spoilt 24-year-olds who can't stand each other and generally behave like teenagers.

 

A gripping story, well-fleshed out, with plenty of fascinating background information, both anthropological and forensic, and about an aspect of the military which had never really crossed my mind before.

Death of a Squire

Death of a Squire - Maureen Ash

Back again - after a long break! - with some of the books I've been reading. And, yes, I'm still into the medieval period ...

 

(The second Templar Knight Mystery) Lincoln, autumn, 1200 AD

 

'He's nowt but a lad,' said Talli. 'Looks to be no more than fifteen or sixteen. And from the way he's been trussed, he didn't string himself up there. Why would anyone bring a youngster like that out here and hang him?'

'I don't know and I don't care,' Fulcher replied. 'I'm going to forget I ever saw him and if you two have any sense in your addled pates you'll do the same.'

Laden with their booty, the three men made haste down the track towards the stream that had been the destination of the deer thay had killed. In its water the poachers would place their steps until they were well away from the scene of their crime so that any dogs used to track them would lose their telltale scent and the smell of the deer's blood. Above them a slight breeze rattled the dry branches of the oak and the body swayed slightly, then moved a little more as the first of the crows landed on the bright thatch of hair that topped the corpse's head. Twisted under the noose, caught by the violence of the tightening rope, was the boy's cap, the colourful peacock's feather that had once jauntily adorned it now hanging crushed and bedraggled. As the crows began their feast, it was loosened and fluttered slowly to the ground.

 

This is the second book in the series and I haven't read the first, but that wasn't a problem. You are soon put in the picture. An ex-Templar, Sir Bascot de Marins, is living at Lincoln Castle. He had already solved one murder for the castellan, Lady Nicolaa, (the first book) and now when another nysterious death occurs she turns to him again.

 

A young man, a squire, has been hanged deep in the forest. He was trussed up, so it cannot have been suicide. Nicolaa's husband, the Sheriff, a rather stupid man interested only in hunting who leaves all his more boring duties to her, wants to blame it on poachers or outlaws, easy scapegoats, but the boy's dagger and fine clothing were not stolen, so Nicolaa and de Marins think that unlikely.

 

It turns out that the squire, Hubert de Tornay, was an unpleasant boy. No one could stand him and no one is sorry he is dead. There are many potential suspects. What worries Nicolaa, though, is that the boy had apparently been claiming to know details of a conspiracy against the king. In the year 1200, "Bad King John" was still new to the throne and many felt that the king should really be John's nephew Arthur, a boy who lived in France. What was worse, King John himself was on his way to Lincoln to meet there with King William of Scotland. The murderer had to be found before King John's arrival for John was a suspicious and vindictive man.

 

The squire was also a notorious woman-chaser, so there are girls involved. He had had a rendez-vous in the forest with a village girl that night. But he had been seen riding into the forest with a woman from the city up behind him on the horse. Or had he? Were the villagers lying?

 

De Matins questions a charcoal burner and his sons who live in that part of the forest. The next day they are brutally murdered. Then his servant, Gianni, disappears – kidnapped. Gianni was a starving street-kid de Marins had picked on his travels, and had now grown very fond of. Was the kidnapper also the murderer of the squire and the charcoal-burner's family?

 

It is exciting and well-written, and seems historically accurate. I am certainly going to read the first book in the series, The Alehouse Murders, as soon as I can get hold of a copy. I also want to know what will happen in the third book. At the end of this one, de Marins is faced with a difficult choice: to return to the Order of the Templars and full obedience, or to renounce all his ties with them and cease to call himself a Templar. What will he do?

The Devil's Hunt

The Devil's Hunt - Paul Doherty

A Medieval Mystery featuring Hugh Corbett

 

England, 1303

 

Ascham opened his eyes. the library was dark. He tried again to scream but the sound died on his lips. The candle, flickering under its metal cap on the table, shed a small pool of light and Ascham glimpsed the piece of parchment the assassin had tossed onto the table. Ascham realised what had brought about his death: he'd recognised the truth but he'd been stupid ebough to allow his searches to be known. If only he had a pen! His hand grasped the wound bubbling in his chest. He wept and crawled painfully across the floor towards the table. He seized the parchment and, with his dying strength, carefully hauled himself up to etch out the letters – but the pool of light seemed to be dimming. He'd lost the feeling in his legs, which were stiffening, like bars of iron.
'Enough,' he whispered. 'Ah, Jesus ...'
Ascham closed his eyes, coughed and died as the blood bubbled on his lips.

 

When the book opens, Hugh Corbett is at home in Leighton, in Essex, enjoying his peaceful life as Lord of the Manor, even if that does involve the odd hanging (as on the first page of Chapter 1) which he certainly does not enjoy, though everyone else seems to. But this country idyll is rudely shattered when the King, Edward I, arrives at the manor house demanding that Hugh return to his service immediately.

 

A demand from a king, though phrased as a request, is in reality an order, and in the case of this king, to cross him when he is in this mood would be to invite disaster. So Sir Hugh, along with his henchman Ranulf-atte-Newgate and their friend-servant-squire Maltote, are despatched to Oxford, where Sparrow Hall is in a state of turmoil. Two murders have already been committed there. Left near the second corpse was a parchment announcing "The Bellman fears neither King nor clerk [...] The Bellman will ring the truth and all shall hear it."

 

Meanwhile, outside the college, in the city, this Bellman has been posting proclamations attacking the King and claiming that Simon de Montfort was in the right of it when he took up arms against the King. And these proclamations purport to be emanating from Sparrow Hall, which the masters there all fervently deny. Well, they would.

 

Also outside the Hall, another seemingly separate series of murders has been taking place. In each case, an old beggar from the city, by definition helpless and defenceless, has been taken out into the forest and decapitated and his head has been hung from the branches of a tree. Sir Hugh finds reason to believe they were not actually killed in the forest but taken there – from Sparrow Hall, which would link them in some strange way with the Bellman and the murder of the two masters.

 

Another perfect medieval whodunnit from Paul Doherty. Not a word is wasted, and the excitement never flags for a moment. Nor can one possibly guess (without cheating!) who the Bellman really is.

Currently reading

Credible Dagger by Gregory M Acuna