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Tuesday, 21 January 2020

‘A Verse to Murder’ by Peter Tonkin


Published by Sharpe Books,
19 August 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-69387951-7 (PB)

January 1599, and Queen Elizabeth 1 has been on the throne for many years and not getting any younger. There is no obvious heir nor has she, more capricious and cantankerous than ever, named one. Her various courtiers are circling her, some like Robert Cecil, Secretary to the Privy Council, anxious to promote the candidate that seems best suited for the English throne, others anxious to promote their own claims, like Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, recently returned without success from the continuing wars in Ireland.

Another returnee from the Irish wars, similarly unsuccessful, is the poet Edmund Spenser, formerly Chief Secretary for Ireland. And it is on the very first page of this book, gathered around Spenser’s lifeless corpse, that we encounter the author’s series protagonist, the famed fencing master and self-styled Master of Logic, Tom Musgrave, along with two of his companions, one being the herbalist John Gerard and the other one William Shakespeare. It is Gerard who suspects that Spenser’s death is not accidental but the result of hemlock being poured into his ear while he was asleep (sound familiar, anyone?), hemlock purchased, according to Gerard’s apprentice Hal,  from Gerard’s own pharmacy by a hooded, cloaked individual calling himself Will Shakespeare.

Shakespeare himself, however, although uneasy at the possible implications of any alleged involvement in Spenser’s death, has other matters on his mind; his first plays having been highly successful, he is investing in a new theatre suitable for yet more ambitious productions. And there is the small matter of others plays to write; he is currently working on three at the same time – Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Henry the Fifth­. So, he leaves Spenser’s lodgings, saying as he goes, ‘When shall we three meet again?’ But no sooner has he gone than various law officers arrive and also two individuals, the first being the astrologer Simon Forman, no friend to John Gerard, the second the playwright George Chapman, who is deeply jealous of Shakespeare’s success and accuses him of being a Roman Catholic – probably not true but in those paranoid times, equivalent to an accusation of treason. It is imperative that Tom and Gerard find Hal, and they track him to Forman’s dwelling, but after that, it seems he has vanished. And during the course of the search for Hal Tom and another of his companions, the laconic Dutchman, Ugo Stell, as well as Gerard have to pursue the truth through the various rat-runs and wasps’ nests that constituted Elizabethan London, a pursuit which involves at least one nefarious entry into Westminster Abbey, a number of evenings in various taverns frequented by London’s criminal fraternity, and a trip to the infamous prison, the Marshalsea.

I really enjoyed this book and feel it is best described as a rambunctious romp underpinned by substantial historical accuracy. I read it with one hand free to turn the pages and the other poised over the Google/Wikipedia button. Nearly all the men referred to in the story are real characters, not just the names familiar from A-level history such as Essex, Raleigh, Secretary Burghley, and from Elizabethan literature Christopher Marlowe (dead years before) and John Donne (something of a Lothario when young) among others, but others completely unfamiliar to me: Robert Poley, described by Wikipedia as a government double agent, government messenger and agent provocateur, ‘the very genius of the Elizabethan underworld’, and the really chilling Rackmaster Topcliffe, his function all too well described by his soubriquet. The women, however, who actually appear in the story, are, I think, fictitious, such as Shakespeare’s mistress, Rosalind, and Tom’s ex-mistress Kate Shelton whose sister Audrey was, however, real and as Lady Walsingham was an influential figure in the court of James I after Elizabeth’s death. Tom himself is a fictional figure but his family from the Border between England and Scotland certainly existed. All in all a great read. Recommended.
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Reviewer: Radmila May
Peter Tonkin was born 1 January 1950 in Ulster, son of an RAF officer. He spent much of his youth travelling the world from one posting to another. He went to school at Portora Royal, Enniskillen and Palmer's, Grays. He sang, acted, and published poetry, winning the Jan Palac Memorial Prize in 1968. He studied English with Seamus Heaney at Queen's Belfast. His first novel, Killer, was published in 1978. His work has included the acclaimed "Mariner" series that have been critically compared with the best of Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley and Hammond Innes. More recently he has been working on a series of detective thrillers with an Elizabethan background.

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.


Saturday, 18 January 2020

‘Shadow Play’ by Cynthia Harrod Eagles


Published by Severn House,
28 February 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-847565-1 (PB) 

In a rather run-down area of west London, north of Shepherds Bush Green, in a small triangle of land bounded by the railway, Wood Lane and the A40 flyover, in a plot even more run-down than its surroundings, is an equally run-down motor repair shop in the yard of which the proprietor Eli Sampson has found the body of a well-dressed middle-aged man who has died as a result of violence. Sampson calls the police who in their turn call in Detective Chief Inspector Bill Slider and Detective Sergeant Jim Atherton. It is clear that the victim had died elsewhere, and his body had been brought to the yard. But who was he? Why had he been killed? And where had he been killed?

It takes a painstaking investigation by Slider and his team before they can even begin to unpick the puzzle, first with the discovery of a lottery ticket in the dead man’s jacket which leads them to his flat and his name – Leo Kimmelman. But they find that the flat has previously been taken apart by someone else who was clearly looking for something which whoever it was seems not to have found. But Slider and Co, with an inspired guess, do – a memory stick with film of three males indulging in sex games and taking cocaine. Two are young, obviously Eastern European, and are unknown to Slider and Co but the third is not. He is former MP Kevin Rathkeale, now a member of the London Assembly, with special responsibility for youth. It looks as if the film was made for the purposes of blackmail but Rathkeale, when interviewed in his office, while he admits that it is certainly him in the film, denies that he had ever met Kimmelman. Similarly, the two eastern European males deny that they have ever met Kimmelman.

Meanwhile Kimmelman’s occasional girlfriend, masseuse Shanice Harper, turns up and she tells Detective Constable Hart that Kimmelman had described himself to her as righthand man to somebody but she doesn’t know who, although she is insistent that Kimmelman was not an enforcer, not violent, just a ‘someone who fixed’ things. From there the inquiries lead all over the place, to property developers and an unsuccessful plan to redevelop the site where the body was found, to a children’s charity about whose organiser serious doubts had been raised, to a luxury boat moored on the Thames. It is indeed a game of shadows, a clever reference to the ancient shadow-plays of Asia, originating two millennia ago, which evolved through magic lantern shows into early film and from there into the pictures transmitted via the internet so often for destructive purposes.

As usual with this excellent author’s Slider novels, the pages teem with characterful personalities and fizz with lively dialogue. Slider’s own team is always a pleasure to meet on the page: while they banter with each other continually there is between them a true comradeship which mean that they all can work together to bring about a satisfactory conclusion to whichever investigation they are involved in. Recommended.
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Reviewer: Radmila May

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles was born in Shepherd's Bush in London. She was educated at Burlington School, a girls' charity school founded in 1699, and at the University of Edinburgh and University College London, where she studied English, history and philosophy. She wrote her first novel while at university and in 1972 won the Young Writers' Award with The Waiting Game. Afterwards she had a variety of jobs in the commercial world, while writing during the evenings and weekends. The birth of the Morland Dynasty series enabled her to become a full-time writer in 1979. The series was originally intended to comprise twelve volumes, but it has proved so popular that it has now been extended to thirty-five .In 1993 she won the RNA Novel of the Year Award with Emily, the third volume of her Kirov Saga, a trilogy set in nineteenth century Russia, and she also writes the internationally acclaimed Bill Slider Mysteries. There are now twenty-one books in the series. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles still lives in London, has a husband and three children, and apart from writing her passions are music (she plays in several amateur orchestras) horses, wine, architecture and the English countryside.

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.

‘Headlong’ by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles


Published by Severn House,
31 October 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8836-5 (HB)

This is, according to the author’s website, the 21st in her Bill Slider series, and as enjoyable as all the other Slider titles. Like all the others it is set in and around Shepherds Bush in West London, an area which is both socially and culturally mixed and, while the main protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Bill Slider, continues to be at the heart of the narrative, over the years some other members of his team have changed. 

This time Slider is investigating the death of the well-known and popular literary agent Ed Wiseman, who has fallen fram a window of his house in Holland Park on to a wheelbarrow full of bricks which is the remains of the house next door which is in teh process of being partly demolished prior to extensive referbishment.

The most likely reason for his death is suicide although why such a successful and popular agent, well-known in the literary and publishing world, should have chosen to end his life is curious. But Slider’s boss, Detective Superintendent Porson of the splendid malapropisms and Spoonerisms, and the even more somewhat menacing Borough Commander Carpenter would like the detectives not to enquire any further. True, Wiseman was something of a Lothario but his various lady loves, even his ex-wife, forgave him because of his immense charm which enabled him to get away with behaviour that would otherwise have resulted in deep anger, at least among some discarded lovers. And the forensic evidence definitely points to death having resulted from a fall. Nonetheless Slider isn’t entirely satisfied; there are one or two things which make him think that Wiseman had not intended suicide. And then there is more detailed forensic evidence which shows that Wiseman’s death had actually resulted from several blows to the head with a blunt instrument. Meanwhile at home Slider’s wife Joanna seems to have something on her mind, something which she won’t tell Slider about.

So there does have to be a more thorough investigation of Wiseman’s death after all, and Slider needs to turn over quite a few stones while he, along with his team, Detective Sergeants Atherton of the deceptively Bertie Wooster façade and Hart, very much the local girl, and Norma Swilley, intensify their inquiries until they find the answer. And it is a measure of this writer’s talent that, despite the light-hearted tone of Slider’s relations with his colleagues, the reader is fully aware of the tragic nature of that answer. Highly recommended.
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Reviewer: Radmila May
 
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles was born in Shepherd's Bush in London. She was educated at Burlington School, a girls' charity school founded in 1699, and at the University of Edinburgh and University College London, where she studied English, history and philosophy. She wrote her first novel while at university and in 1972 won the Young Writers' Award with The Waiting Game. Afterwards she had a variety of jobs in the commercial world, while writing during the evenings and weekends. The birth of the Morland Dynasty series enabled her to become a full-time writer in 1979. The series was originally intended to comprise twelve volumes, but it has proved so popular that it has now been extended to thirty-five .In 1993 she won the RNA Novel of the Year Award with Emily, the third volume of her Kirov Saga, a trilogy set in nineteenth century Russia, and she also writes the internationally acclaimed Bill Slider Mysteries. There are now twenty-one books in the series. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles still lives in London, has a husband and three children, and apart from writing her passions are music (she plays in several amateur orchestras) horses, wine, architecture and the English countryside. 


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.