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review 2017-11-23 15:16
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.

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text 2017-11-21 21:40
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 8 - Hanukkah - and Square 3 - St. Martin's Day
The Shaman Laughs - James D. Doss
The Devil's Acolyte - Michael Jecks
An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro
A Darker Shade: 17 Swedish Stories of Murder, Mystery and Suspense Including a Short Story by Stieg Larsson - John-Henri Holmberg

Tasks for Hanukkah: Light nine candles around the room (SAFELY) and post a picture. –OR– Play the Dreidel game to pick the next book you read.

Assign a book from your TBR to each of the four sides of the dreidel:

נ (Nun)
ג (Gimel)
ה (He)
ש (Shin)


Spin a virtual dreidel: http://www.torahtots.com/holidays/chanuka/dreidel.htm
– then tell us which book the dreidel picked.

 

OK, here we go:


נ (Nun)     =  James D. Doss: The Shaman Laughs
ג
(Gimel)  =  Michael Jecks: The Devil's Acolyte
ה (He)
      =  Kazuo Ishiguro: An Artist of the Floating World
ש (Shin)
   =  John-Henri Holmberg (ed.): A Darker Shade

 

 

Alright -- Ishiguro it is.  And this will also give me my book themes for St. Martin’s Day (square 3): Read a book set on a vineyard, or in a rural setting, –OR– a story where the MC searches for/gets a new job. –OR– A book with a lantern on the cover, or books set before the age of electricity. –OR– A story dealing with an act of selfless generosity (like St. Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar).

 

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review 2017-11-17 20:10
I Do Repent, and Yet I Do Despair: "Doctor Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe, Simon Trussler
Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe

For me, the key to Faustus is his interaction in Act V, Scene I with the "old man". The old man gives us Marlowe's theology:

 

Yet, yet, thou hast an amiable soul,”

 

—even after Faustus has made his deal with the devil and used the power he got for the previous 23 'years' and 364 'days', Faustus's soul is lovable. Just repent! Faustus replies:

 

Where art thou, Faustus? Wretch, what hast thou done?

Damned art thou, Faustus, damned: despair and die.”

 

Echoing the stories of Cain after his fratricide and Jesus on the cross, Faustus insists on his damnation. The old man contradicts him:

 

“Oh stay, good Faustus, stay thy desperate steps.

[. . .

…] call for mercy and avoid despair.”

 

The old man leaves, and Faustus speaks out his dilemma:

 

“I do repent, and yet I do despair.”

 

Mephistophilis calls Faustus a "traitor", and "arrest[s his] soul / For disobedience" — don't doubt the keenness of Marlowe's irony, or sarcasm —, and Faustus repents of his repentance —irony! sarcasm! —, and gets his final wish, to see "the face that launched a thousand ships". While he's going on about how he'll "be Paris" and get Helen—does Faustus not remember how that turned out??—, during his poetry the old man returns to the stage. When Faustus leaves, intoxicated with sexual love for Helen, the old man, before defying the devils who've come to take his body to fire (but not his soul), says of Faustus:

 

“Accursed Faustus, miserable man,

That from thy soul exclud'st the grace of heaven,

And fliest the throne of his tribunal seat.”

 

Faustus doesn't crave knowledge: he goes through the catalogue of human expertise at the beginning of the play and finds, study by study, their futility, and turns to "necromantic books": "A sound magician is a demi-god."

 

 

If you're into 16th century literature, read on.

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review 2017-11-17 15:18
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). 

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text 2017-11-15 13:42
The Counter-Reformation of Queen Mary I

I am back at EHFA today looking at Queen Mary's attempt at counter-reformation in England.

 

Source: englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2017/11/the-counter-reformation-of-mary-i.html
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