Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review - The King of Fools by Frederic Dard

The King of Fools (Pushkin Vertigo)
".. what was better? to be a murderer or a gullible fool?.."

A mix-up of of cars and an encounter with an Englishwoman, Marjorie, sends Jean-Marie Valaise's mundane world into a tail-spin. After a brief liaison, she returns home - he writes to her, he goes to her - is she there or not? A jealous husband, a dead body, an arrest.   "... every mystery is an illusion..."  Can Jean-Marie find his way out of the nightmare that follows.

Yet another outstanding tale from Dard.

Review - Down For The Count by Martin Holmen

Down for the Count (Harry Kvist, #2)
Despite a lack of geographical knowledge, this is a thriller of some consequence.

Set in 1930s Stockholm, an excon returns home to discover an old woman murdered and her son not only blamed but institutionalised. None of which makes any sense to Harry Kvist.

So Harry, in need of legitimate employment, goes to work for the local undertaker all the while trying to solve the murder, open a cigar shop, and await the impending release of his lover from prison.

The story ebbs and flows - shadow-boxing - ducking and weaving as the boxer does, as Harry does. And this old boxer doesn't know the meaning of going down with the count.

The story reveals itself at the end - you certainly never guess where its leading you - this is storytelling par excellence.

Whilst this is the second in a series, you can certainly read it as a stand-alone.

Also in the series:

Review - The King's Company by Jessamy Taylor

King's Company
Written in the style of a "boys' own adventure", this tale in set in the years of the Anarchy - the wars fought between King Stephen and Empress Maud for the ultimate prize - the English Crown.

Into this chaos, we find young William d'Amory - a lad weened on tales of knights and wars, who one day hope to be one of the greatest knights in England. But he has a long way to go. Into his sheltered world rides Philip de Colleville, on a mission of his own. Philip is welcomed by William's family - but all to soon this private idyll is disrupted as William is unwittingly drawn into Philip's secret.

This book hits its target audience (young adults) well and is not over complicated by a dense plot line. Its does take a little while to pick up but moves along nicely when it does. Is there the barest hint of more adventures to come ....

Review - Prague Noir by Pavel Mandys

Prague Noir
" ... dark, provocative, well-crafted tales from the disenfranchised .."

Sums it up succinctly. In an age when the professional private detective did not come into existence until the 1990s, where there was no organised crime, and the secret police ruled with terror and fear, comes a diverse range of tales from all aspects of Czech history.

It is said that "... the best noirs end tragically or at least ambiguously .." and many of these tales fit that mold.

Not once was my attention diverted from the stories at hand, and I was captivated by the style of writing - there was no sense of repetition in the story telling - each was unique.

A great addition to a growing collection of international noir.

see my reviews for:

Review - She Be Damned by MJ Tjia

She Be Damned (The Heloise Chancey Mysteries)
London 1863 - prostitutes are being murdered and disemboweled.

From humble beginnings to the comfortable life of a courtesan, Heloise Chancy dabbles in the world of private investigation. And when she is called upon to step back into her old world to investigate a series of brutal murders and the disappearance of a missing girl, Heloise must use her charm and wit to solve the mystery.

The story rattles along briskly from its confronting opening scenes to its climatic conclusion as the reader is drawn into Heloise's world. No sooner is one part of the mystery is solved than yet one more remains unresolved.

The seething underbelly of Victorian London comes alive as Heloise walks the dimly lit streets and alleyways to seek answers, often putting herself in harms way, but managing to achieve more than past investigations, despite the obvious chauvinistic attitudes of those seeking her assistance - "What on earth do you think a little dollymop like her can achieve?"

The story is peppered with intriguing characters from the mysterious maidservant Amah Li Leen, brothel keeper Madame Silvestre, the mysterious Mr Priestly, and local street urchin.  The novel gives a strange foreboding of what was yet to come for the street-walkers of Victorian London.

It will be interesting to read the follow up to see how the characters are further developed and in what capacity Heloise will next be employed to investigate.

read more here

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: Anne Bonney by Phillip Thomas Tucker

Anne Bonny the Infamous Female Pirate
Phillip Thomas Tucker's "Anne Bonny the Infamous Female Pirate" is one of the more even-handed portrayals of Anne - her life, her times, her piratical activities, her end - that I have read in a long time.

We are given a real sense of the times despite a lack of documentation - afterall, many of those involved in piracy operated under aliases and in secrecy, and did not leave a written account, and very few survived to tell their tales. Even Anne did not leave an account of her life, preferring to retire into obscurity.

Anne was first portrayed "as a psychological female maniac cursed with a homicidal temper and unstoppable rage .." in Captain Johnson's book on pirates published a few years after she was captured and imprisoned (c.1724).

But what led Anne to a life of piracy is the question. From the scandal of her parent's relationship and her early childhood in Ireland, to her arrival in Charles Town where her father sought a new life (c.1708), Anne's refusal to bend and submit, saw her embark on an ill-fated marriage to Jim Bonny. When life Charles Town became too stifling, the couple fled to the Caribbean (c.1718) where a life of piracy - for Jim at least - seemed the easiest way to make a living.

It would be her meeting of Calico Jack Rackman (1719) that would see Anne embark on her "career" as a pirate - all for her love of a man. In the end, it would be the courageous actions of two women, who led the final hopeless last stand before their capture (1720).

What is implied from Anne's trial, which drew much publicity, was that both she and Mary Read "... had been sentenced to death to pay for the crimes and sins of all those successful pirates who had come before her ...". She was 22.

As a glimpse into the world of piracy that is far from either whimsical or fantastical, then this conveys the harsh realities of piracy which saw over 400 pirates hanged in a ten year period. Tucker's aim was " .. to present a corrective view ..." of Anne's story, which I felt he achieved.

read more:
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  • A General History of the Pyrates by Daniel Dafoe
  • A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates by Charles Johnson
  • Bold in Her Breeches: Women Pirates Across the Ages by Jo Stanley
  • The Pirate Trial of Anne Bonny and Mary Read by Tamara J. Eastman and Constance Bond
  • Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920 by Margaret S. Creighton and Lisa Norling
  • The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down by Colin Woodard
  • Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly
and for something a little more tongue in cheek, one of my all time favourites - "The Pyrates" by George MacDonald Fraser.

Prince Felix Yusupov - The Man Who Killed Rasputin

So, just recently I cam across this new title: Prince Felix Yusupov: The Man Who Murdered Rasputin by Christopher Dobson

This powerful biography tells the compelling story of Prince Felix Yusupov — the man who murdered Rasputin.
The murder of the Tsarina’s ‘Mad Monk’ sent shock waves through pre-revolutionary Russia. Many foretold it would mean the end of the monarchy — and they might have been right. 
Prince Felix Yusupov: The Man Who Murdered Rasputin by [Dobson, Christopher]But the murderers and their leader, the notorious Prince Yusupov, saw Rasputin’s hold over Nicholas II and his wife as an evil influence that was destroying Russia, whose armies were being slaughtered in the First World War.
Yusupov was one of the richest men in Russia. He was also handsome, amusing and vain, boasting of the smallest waist of any man in Europe. 
Though married to the Tsar’s niece, Irina, he was homosexual and often paraded in women’s clothes — as such he even excited the attention of King Edward VII at the Théâtre des Capucines.
During the revolution he was rescued at the eleventh hour with other members of the Imperial Family and went to Paris where he settled. His flamboyant lifestyle, his business adventures, court cases and struggles to raise money on the Yusupov jewels, as well as his friendships with the great of the time, including the Windsors, make exciting reading.
Based on personal interviews and meticulous research, this enthralling biography captures the flavour of a bizarre, eventful and extraordinary life.

read more about Prince Felix Yusupov:
The History Reader
Penguin Books
The Daily Telegraph

Review - Killing Rasputin by Magarita Nelipa

KILLING RASPUTIN: The Murder That Ended The Russian Empire
KILLING RASPUTIN: The Murder That Ended The Russian Empire by Margarita Nelipa - This work is based upon the report of Vladimir Rudnev, investigator into Rasputin's influence over the Tsar (28.03.1919), revised and updated again since its publication in 2010.

Its divided into three parts: (1) biographic information about Rasputin and his life; (2) the cold case review of the murder; and (3) connecting the murder with the downfall of the Russian Empire.

"It has happened! .... Because of an empty and shortsighted obstinacy of one women - the final catastrophe happened."

This is a well researched, heavily detailed tome with a huge cast of characters (imperial, political, noble). Nelipa's use of records obtained from Russian sources gives insights into how this man was viewed by the Russian royal family and the Russian nobility. She explores the many differing sources to provide explanations behind the mythology of both the man and the murder.

It would probably have made for easier reading had I had the actual book in my hand so that I could have easily references those involved (I was reading an online copy). Personally, I preferred part 2 - the cold case analysis.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review - The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
The first thing that struck me was the very clever writing and story telling. Typically, when you are telling a story its either first or third person narrative, and usually the story focuses on one character or from that character's point of view. In this instance, we not only have the first person narrative of one character, we have the additional narratives of multiple characters - yet all are, at various time, one and the same! And that is where this book stands out in both its writing and in the telling of the story.

Narrator Aiden Bishop awakens to find himself in the body of one of the guests at a private party. Sounds a bit like an episode of "Quantum Leap" - however, in this story, the scene is played out over and over until the mystery of the death of Evelyn Hardcastle is solved (a bit like "Groundhog Day" where a wrong must be put right for the universe to get back to normal), with Aiden waking each day in the body of yet another party guest, edging ever closer to the day when he must reveal what he knows or is condemned to repeat it all again in an eternal time loop.

It is through Aiden's eyes, when inhabiting the body of his hosts, that the story and clues to this mystery (a murder that is not a murder) are eventually put before us as each "host" sees the scenes being played out differently. But its not that simple afterall, "... how lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home ...". And Aiden is certainly led on a merry chase by allies and foes alike, while unseen hands manipulate the guests like a proverbial puppeteer but to what end and purpose.

What was intriguing is that we never really get a sense of time (ie: when is this story set), or how long the protagonists have dwelt in this time loop. What we do know is that an answer will release them, and as the tale progresses, " ... it is no longer simply about finding the right answer, its about holding onto it long enough to deliver it ...".

It may take a chapter or two to get in the swing of things, but persevere - the answers to this story are not as obvious as you may think, and just when you think all is resolved, you realise you have 100 or so more pages to go!