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review 2017-12-24 14:41
An edge of the seat thriller
Betrayal - Stewart Binns

Jim Dowd and Maureen O'Brien are sent to the notorious location of the Ardoyne a republican enclave in a divided and secular Belfast of the 1980's...."Several streets have disappeared altogether leaving large tracts of waste ground covered in the rubble of demolition. The scene resembles the shattered landscapes of Britain's cities in the aftermath of German bombing during the Second World War."... Their mission is to settle, infiltrate and befriend a deeply suspicious mainly Catholic population. Their occupation is that of school teachers, cast adrift in a world full of dangerous men, and they must use all their training and skill to avoid being outed as infiltrators and spies. Once accepted in the community they patiently await further instructions from their handlers in London. As time passes Jim becomes attracted to Kathleen McKee the daughter of Jimmy McKee, quartermaster of the Ardoyne branch of the IRA. This is a dangerous situation made even worse when orders are received to assassinate Sean Murphy the Ardoyne OC (Officer Commanding) Has Jim become too involved and understanding of the plight of the catholic population to carry out his orders? Can Maureen convince him how perilous their situation is fast becoming imploring him to do as ordered?


I have to confess that I have a keen knowledge of the politics of Northern Ireland at the time. I lived in Belfast during this period and knew firsthand what it felt like living in a country close to the brink of civil war. The constant bombings and tensions between a proud and stubborn people were a day to day occurrence creating a very nervous and uneasy environment in which to live. Stewart Binns has written a wonderful book that oozes fear and suspicion from the very first chapter creating a tour de force that is impossible to put down. His use of dialogue to build a picture of a society in meltdown creates some of the most memorable prose I have read this year....."We must have victory, victory at all costs, however long the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."........."On the other hand, the opposite side of his head explodes. Blood and brain matter are sprayed everywhere making a shocking splash as they cascade across the inside of the windscreen. His short life is over in an instant."....."We're like so many others- civilians and military, guilty and innocent. We're all pawns in a game. So many have died; there's been so much pain, so much hurt."..........


You, dear reader, will have to read this book for yourself to discover if Jim and Maureen can escape before their true identity becomes know to the local IRA.

As always in politics life is complicated and every organization be it MI5, MI6, Special Branch etc have hidden agendas and are equally as ruthless in their ability to carry out killings..."There's a rogue unit at large; right wing, disaffected. They're on our tails and feeding intel back to the RUC which, in turn, may be leaking it to the IRA and its ASU in England."... Over the years I have read a number of books concerning "The Troubles" and Betrayal by Stewart Binns is undoubtedly one of the best. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley and Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written. Highly Recommended.

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review 2014-07-28 19:23
Review: Conquest, Making of England #1 by Stewart Binns
Conquest - Stewart Binns

This is probably going to be seen as a guilty pleasure and I have glanced at reviews which would suggest it is quite possibly not all that cool to say (a bit like admitting to thinking The Da Vinci Code was one hell of a rattling good and enjoyable read, which is was, you know it), but … I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Yes, I can see what is wrong with it, but as a whole, it holds together nicely, and with a relatively unobtrusive style and is an all round rattling good tale.


Of course, I’ve come across Hereward several times. Several recent book series have featured the 11th Century Fenland Terror. James Aitcheson has had him in his tale. James Wilde has written three, soon to be four, excellent novels based on him and his exploits, real or imagined. The brilliant Marc Morris, in his The Norman Conquest non-fiction look at the people who brought you 1066 and all that, mentions Hereward several times and provides a good look at all the facts, the few there are, about him, as well as mentioning some of the more speculative stories. Whether you come from other books to Marc’s book, or go from there to other Herward stories, you can see that (amongst others) the two James’ do at least touch base with what is ‘known.’ As does Stewart Binns here. However, and perhaps even more than James Wilde (at least until I’ve slapped some peepers on #4 ‘The Wolves of New Rome’), he picks up the Hereward ball and runs more than a little further with it. Wilde and Binns both seem to agree on Hereward’s struggle with his anger issues, but they solve them in different ways. I don’t think James Wilde has his Hereward at Senlac Hill, nor does James Aitcheson. Their Herewards only really come front of stage in the period after Hastings. I think both Binns and Wilde are also implying that Hereward, real person or not, is possibly the source for the later development of the Robin Hood myth. Something that possibly Robert Holdstock might like to comment on (if he hasn’t already done so and quite honestly, after struggling through the stream of consciousness nonsense that was most of Gate of Horn, Gate of Ivory, I finally let him go his own way) in a ‘Mythago Wood’ novel. I don't know.


The story begins, perhaps surprisingly, in the mountains of Greece. To where the heir to the Eastern Roman Empire, travels in search of enlightenment from a legendary old warrior, now turned hermit. Turns out, the old warrior knew the Prince’s father, fought for him in the Varangian Guard. The warrior is now 82, but instead of giving the Prince the One to Ten of what to do, tells him a story, from which he can draw his own lessons from. It is the warrior’s life story.


You’ve guessed by this point, that the old hermit, is Hereward, though he does seem to have the name Godwin for some reason. He begins telling his story from his wild childhood days, through his rebellious youth, to adulthood and maturity, through many of the period’s historic milestones his lifespan has encompassed. He was, of course, at Hastings and tried to rally the English forces thereafter, but had to, in the end, leave and travel abroad.


There are several nice touches. Here, Hereward has to persuade a reluctant Harold to take the throne. Where Harold actually sympathises with Edward’s position and therefore, William’s claims. You can see, with some of the incidents that go on in Harold and Hereward’s time in Normandy, where some of the tactics they would later use against William, come from, for instance. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence for any of the above, though if I remember rightly, James Wilde does have Hereward on the continent before Hastings. Here, Edward, on his deathbed, makes Harold his successor. Again found in other books and history. After the rebellion dies out, Hereward agrees to go abroad (James Wilde has his Hereward meeting William, but only after the battle, Morris says there is a legend that they met), to save England from further turmoil and anguish at William’s hands, but that could be blamed on Hereward.


As a whirlwind tour of the period’s hotspots and big names, in Britain and (the rest of) Europe, it is undoubtably a great read. Some of the people he meets, may be stretching it a little, but then I don’t know enough about (for instance) Spanish folk-law to comment with any certainty. In that respect, it read a little like Tim Severin’s Viking trilogy, just crammed into one book. Severin has one Viking journeying to all the places associated with the Vikings’ history, meeting most of the big players and generally living the fullest life imaginable (another excellent read/guilty pleasure if you’re one of the costumes and corset Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction lilly-livers elsewhere on Goodreads). Maybe this is like that but on steroids, having to pack it all into one book and all. And it can feel a bit mechanical for that. Like he had to check all the names and places of his list and he was damned if he wasn’t going to get them all in! The stuff about a mystical talisman too, I could have done without. Never liked fantasy elements creeping in to what essentially wants to be read like a true story. Takes it all on a bit of a seers and sages trip. It’s better when it has even its tenuous grip on reality. But, people of the time believed in all that and the One God to rule them all hadn’t replaced the touching of wood to ask for the help of the spirit who lived in that wood … still hasn’t really, has it?


So, it gets a solid three stars from me. However, it gets a fourth star solely for mentioning, on several occasions (starting on page 385) the Bishop of Aarhus. Why? Well, that’s the town in Denmark where I now live! Cool, eh? It is Scandinavian’s oldest town, I read today, though in Viking times, was called ‘Aros.’ However, I haven’t checked when the name changed, so I can’t call young Stewart B. on it. Not that anyone would know where a town called ‘Aros’ was…hmm…not that namy people know where Aarhus is, so much of a muchness.


Leave your ego at the front cover and enjoy a good romping read. I for one will certainly be getting hold of the next in what I think is a trilogy. These sort of things usually are.

Oh yeah, read the dedication at the start. A very interesting, quite possibly unique, sentiment. I’ve not come across its like before. Proves his heart’s in the right place, whatever you think of the rest of the book.

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review 2014-07-15 23:01
The Shadow of War (The Great War, #1) by Stewart Binns
The Shadow of War: The Great War Series Book 1 - Stewart Binns

bookshelves: wwi, series, net-galley, e-book, historical-fiction, published-2014, summer-2014, britain-wales, plague-disease

Read from July 13 to 15, 2014


Description: The Shadow of War is the first novel in Stewart Binns's new series which will see a book release for each year of the First World War. This is a story of love and comradeship, of hatred and tragedy - this is the story of the Great War.

June 1914: the beginning of another long, prosperous summer for Britain. But beneath the clear skies, all is not as it seems - the chill wind of social discontent swirls around this sceptred isle.

Shots ring out in a distant European land - the assassination of a foreign aristocrat. From that moment the entire world is propelled into a conflict unlike any seen before.

This is the story of five British communities, their circumstances very different, but who will all share in the tragedy that is to come. All that they have known will be changed forever by the catastrophic events of the Great War.

The Shadow of War, the first novel in The Great War series from Stewart Binns, is a thrilling read and perfect for those who enjoy the writing of Conn Iggulden and Bernard Cornwell.

Stewart Binns began his professional life as an academic. He then pursued several adventures, including a stint at the BBC, before settling into a career as a schoolteacher, specializing in history. Later in life a lucky break took him back to the BBC, which was gthe beginning of a successful career in television. He has won a BAFTA, a Grierson, an RTS and a Peabody for his documentaries. Stewart's passion is English history especially its origins and folklore. His previous Making of England series: Crusade, Conquest, Anarchy and Lionheart, were published to great acclaim.

Dedication: To all those who endured the Great War

Opening: PART ONE, JUNE: Champagne and Plovers' Eggs: Assembly Rooms, Presteigne, Radnorshire:

The Reverend Henry Kewley, rector of St Andrew's, Presteigne, is in full flow. Tall, silver-haired and supremely self-confident, he has been holding bi-monthly meetings for the town's business community for the past year. There has been a lengthy and tedious debate about the calibre of the town's police force and the condition of its jail, but Kewley is now addressing the issue of Presteigne's future livelihood.

Broad St., Presteigne

A solid read where I will look for the next episode this time next year. However, this Great War Trilogy is rather too similar in set up to Ken Follet's 'The Century Trilogy' to award it any stars for innovation.

Signing up.

Isle of White
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review 2011-02-19 00:00
Conquest - Stewart Binns 3.5 stars. http://shelfandstuff.blogspot.com/2011/02/conquest-by-stewart-binns.html
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