Murder in 1093!

Alys Clare Blood of the South
Alys Clare is the pseudonym of Elizabeth Harris, who is well known for her Hawkenlye medieval novels and the Norman novels of the Aelf Fen series. She lives in the fen region and understands the ecology/ environment, which coupled with her understanding of human nature and descriptive writing make her novels excellent reading.
This is the sixth novel, closely following the 2013 Land of the Silver Dragons. Indeed I highly recommend reading them in order if you are not familiar with this author. The character development and overarching plots are more interesting, and greater appreciated, although the individual novels can stand alone. I especially enjoyed Music of a Distant Star, read excitedly through Land of a Silver Dragon, and looked forward to the continuation of the story. Her novels can be long (800 pgs) as they are full of evocative description and peopled with fascinating (often interrelated) characters of their times.

Blood of the South follows two stories in Norman (1093) England, that of Lassair, an apprentice healer which takes place in East Anglia, in the fens between Ely and the Wash, and her partner, Rollo, a Norseman who is on a mission for King William (II) to Constantinople.
Lassair is young, but very insightful, learning to understand her healing gift, while growing into her magic under the tutelage of Gurdyman. Her kindness involves her with a stranger and her child. And Jack Chevestrier, Norman lawman, enters her life. Together they are compelled to uncover the mystery surrounding the child and a body ravaged in the severe flooding (torrential rain complicated by tidal conditions, which was all too appropriate this year in the massive flooding in England). This complicated tale is connected and completed through the Mediterranean journey and political intrigues of Rollo. I enjoyed the alternating, complimenting stories equally.
4 stars

Read on:
If you like Susanna Gregory, SJ Ransom, Bernard Cornwell, Ariana Franklin, or Ellis Peters.

Quotes
The opening line: “There is a collective evil that comes over a crowd of people intent on bullying someone.”
“Gurdyman is the wisest of the wise; my teacher, my mentor, my companion and my friend. In addition, he is a wizard-…”
“Rollo Guisars, who is my one and only lover; the man who stays in my heart although he is usually far away and we are together only rarely.”
“The seriousness of the moment struck home: beeswax candles are fearfully costly, and Gurdyman had just lit four. Somewhere close by, incense was burning; sniffing, I detected the strong heady smell of frankincense; another very expensive commodity. In addition I smelt cumin, dill and garlic. All four substances are used for protection.”
“You’d be amazed how many folk don’t know not to vomit into the wind.”

Read as an ARC ebook from NETGALLY

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Autumn Mysteries

I confess I read so many books, and many many mysteries, that it is hard to write prompt reviews. So here are several recently read, all available in the library! It’s not too early to be thinking of gift giving (Hostess gift for thanksgiving?!)

1) Susanna Gregory 2013 Death In St James’s Park
This is the 8th book in the Thomas Chaloner series that takes place in the 1600s London. She also writes the Matthew Bartholomew series in medieval Cambridge (I adore the series for the titles alone, e.g. A Plague on both your Houses). Interestingly she was a Leeds police officer before changing careers to become an environmental consultant with field work in polar regions (seals, whales, walruses). As an academic she also taught comparative anatomy and biological anthropology. She has a vivid eye for detail and a strong research bent, which makes for great (but perhaps dense) historical mysteries. Aka Elizabeth Cruwys (Cambridge academic) and aka Simon Beaufort (Author).

Thomas Chaloner is “spy to Earl of Clarendon or intelligencer to The Lord Chancellor” (and given the title of gentleman usher as his disguise). It is 1665 and an explosion at the General Letter Office (PO!) leads to an enquiry. Thomas is something of an inept spy and leads a rather dreary existence, but then Gregory accurately portrays the harsh realities of everyday life. He’s already sent off to Russia on his next assignment at the end of this book. Most of her characters are real people doing their “jobs” which makes for fascinating reading. You’ll be glad of central heating.
4 stars for excellent historical drama.
Read on to CJ Sansom Shardlake series.
Noted similarities to Cadfael, by Ellis Peters/Ellis Pargeter
I prefer the Mistress of the Art of Death series (Diana Norman, Ariana Franklin) and wait for it!!!! Norman’s daughter has continued the series!

2) Silent Murders 2014 Mary Miley
This is the second book in the not to be missed series (The Impersonator 2012 won Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers First Crime Novel Award).
25 year old Leah Randall, now Jessie Beckett (after impersonating Jessie Carr, book one) is now in the silent film industry after a lifetime in Vaudeville (first with her mother) working in the Pickford/Fairbanks studio. She’s reinventing herself while using past skills to investigate an increasing body count. She’s quirky, plucky, intelligent, fun loving, plucky jack (Jill) of all trades.
This has a who’s who in early film stars feel! Movie buffs will enjoy this.
(Myrna Loy is her new friend, roommate and a friend of hers is Gary Cooper!)
And as Hollywood, there’s starlets, booze, drugs and genuinely lovely people. This is really the roaring twenties, fabulous Jazz Age and the Silver Screen era. It is also well researched, providing a great escape into a period piece. I look forward to the continuation of this cozy series.
4 stars
Quotes
Prohibition laws were treated with the scorn they deserved.”
“I’d rather have met ‘little Mary’ than the queen of England.”
“That night Myrna showed me how to toast a cheese sandwich with ham, adding another recipe to my short list of culinary accomplishments.”
“Jessie Beckett, girl detective.’ Sounds like a feature film, doesn’t it Mary? Too bad women
can’t be policemen.”
Read On
Mary Miley Theobald 2012 Death by Petticoat: American history myths debunked
Reminds me of the spunky heroine Phryne Fisher (Kerry Greenwood) novels, without the money!

3) Blood on the Water 2014 by Anne Perry
This is the 20th Inspector Monk mystery, but it feels like yesterday to me. I love the period detail and the character development (can Scruff really be 15?). It is 1865 and Victorian London is still seething with politics, class and empire. Beloved characters are struggling to balance their ideals with actual human behaviour, which still resonates today. But we enjoy living with Monk, Hester, Scruff and Oliver for 309 short pages.
Monk and Orme witnessed an explosion on a private water craft which caused the death of 200 people. His investigation is particularly gruesome and chilling, literally and figuratively with politics quickly coming into action. The first part of the book concerns the criminal investigation, while the latter is primarily courtroom drama and discovery of motivation, which of course is what finally determines the true killer. It is often the insight of Hester, with help from Scruff that provides import at information to the case. But Rathbone also has a vast understanding of the law, as well as a moral code. Perry is a master in this era, and particularly with these characters, and delivers another outstanding historical novel. I particularly liked the insight noting the fallibility of eyewitness accounts and testimony, and what we chose to see and hear. Many thought provoking moments.
4.5 stars

4) The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014)
10 Short stories
I am exhausted from reading these tales, and not sure I would have survived if they had been novellas or full length novels. They are penetrating, unsettling, unnerving, unpredictable, ingenious, fascinating and revealing. There are fractured dysfunctional families, yet dreams in every one. I also feel like I have just had a college English class – intense descriptive yet sparse, short stories, beautifully written, evocative, scary to terrifying, full of the unknown, reeling from the passage of time.
5 stars
In Audio books, Jane Carr’s brilliant reading truly rewards the ears. And adds dimension if possible (I listened to most of the stories, after reading them!).
Hilary Mantel is the only woman to win two Man Booker prizes for her amazing novels a out Thomas Cromwell and Tudor England. The third book of the trilogy will be some time but eagerly awaited by all her fans. Don’t miss this stunning collection.