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Michael Ward

THE WRECKING STORM . . . Between the covers

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In the early summer of 1641, London is one of the most dangerous places in Europe. King Charles is facing growing challenges from Parliament and many of London’s people, stirred up by firebrand politicians such as John Pym, sense change is in the air. For Roman Catholics – such as the Tallant family – the mood is doubly dangerous. The Tallants are spice merchants, importing the precious condiments and selling them to those wealthy enough to afford to disguise badly-kept meat with pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. When two Jesuit priests disappear, Thomas Tallant is asked to investigate. When their bodies are found, it is obvious that they have been executed.

Both Sir Robert Tallant and his son Thomas are Members of Parliament, and they are about to witness one of the most famous scenes in British history, but first they must discover who is behind attacks on their premises – both their warehouse beside the River Thames, and their family home out in what was then countryside beyond the City. Are the attacks at the behest of rival merchants, jealous of the Tallants’ connections to the powerful Dutch East India Company, or is something more personal involved? And who is fomenting the violent activism of the Apprentice Boys?

These days we might think of The Apprentice Boys as purely a phenomenon of the political divide in Northern Ireland, but the Apprentice Boys in London predate the Derry incident by over forty years. The London Apprentices in the 1640s were a loosely organised group of many hundreds of young men who took to the street in protest at what they saw as exploitation by their masters. Inevitably but not necessarily correctly, they equated what they saw as their own servitude with the Royalist cause.

The author gives us a brilliantly described account (albeit moved a few months earlier) of the celebrated visit to the House of Commons by King Charles on 4th January 1642 in order to arrest the five members – John Hampden, Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Hollies, John Pym and William Strode – who he saw as central to the plot to bring him down. In this novel, their absence is attributed to a secret message passed earlier in the day to John Pym, and results in the King declaring ruefully, “All my birds have flown.

Birds

Michael Ward does a sterling job of recreating the political and social tensions on the streets of London during what was, arguably, the most turbulent period of British history. The Wrecking Storm is published by Sharpe Books and is available now.

ON MY SHELF, AUGUST 2021 . . . Chevreau, Cobley, Davies, Simenon & Ward

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This month we have four relatively new names alongside an absolute giant of the genre. In surname order, take a look at:

THE HARVARD CURSE by MARTIN CHEVREAU

Three students disappear at the end of the 2019 autumn term at Harvard. The press dubs it ‘The Harvard Curse’ – but what has really happened? To solve this mystery, we must follow two of the young people, Clementine and Adrien in the months before they vanish – as the pair meet and run into a world of trouble together. Through the complicity of new and old friends alike, they disappear leaving a trail of evidence that readers must examine and decide who is to blame. A central character in this novel is the atmospheric  changing seasons of the New England university campus – a compelling backdrop to the tale as the secrets slowly reveal themselves. This is published by Book Guild and will be available on 28th August.

A HUNDRED YEARS TO ARRAS by J.M. COBLEY

This is not crime fiction, but as someone who is passionate about anything to do with The Great War, I couldn’t resist the chance to review it. It tells the tale of a young Somerset man who enlists to fight the Germans. On one level it is a chilling account of the mincing machine horror of WWI battles, but it also examines the profound links between landscape, history and memory. Check my tweets and main page for a full review. Available now, this book is published by Unbound Digital

THE CONSCRIPT by ALASTAIR B. DAVIE

This is the tale of an idealistic young man from 1940s northern England who is attracted to socialism after his own experience of poverty and hardship. He joins the Communist Party, is manipulated by unscrupulous Soviet agents, and feeds sensitive information to Stalin’s men. While Britain is, notionally, an ally of the Soviet Union, this is no problem, but when the war ends, and Europe is divided by political persuasion, Tom Pearson is faced with a totally different – and potentially deadly – conflict of interests. The Conscript is published by Book Guild and you can buy it here.

DEATH THREATS and other stories by GEORGES SIMENON

Georges Simenon is simply one of the giants of crime fiction. If ever a character could claim to be immortal, Jules Maigret (flanked, perhaps, by Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot) will be on the podium. This new collection of short stories is endorsed by the author’s son, John, and will delight all fans of The Master. Published by Penguin, this paperback will be out in September.

THE WRECKING STORM by MICHAEL WARD

We are in a turbulent England just before the outbreak of the English Civil War. As the chances of a peaceful resolution of the dispute between King and Parliament recede, Puritan radicals demand more concessions from the King. Bishops and lords are attacked in the streets as the Apprentice Boys run amok. Criminal gangs use the disorder to mask their activities while the people of London lock their doors and pray for deliverance.

No one is immune from the contagion. Two Jesuit priests are discovered in hiding and brutally executed – and soon the family of spice merchant Thomas Tallant is drawn into the spiral of violence. Thomas struggles to discover who is responsible, aided by the enigmatic Elizabeth Seymour, a devotee of science, mathematics and tobacco in equal measure. Together they enter a murky world of court politics, street violence, secret codes and poisoned letters, and confront a vicious gang leader who will stop at nothing to satisfy his greed. Published by Sharpe Books, The Wrecking Storm is available now.

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