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SW Perry

THE SERPENT’S MARK . . . Between the covers

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Modern readers don’t need history degrees to understand the savagery with which followers of different religious views are prepared to torture, maim and kill one another. Sunni against Shia across the Middle East; Roman Catholic against Protestant in Northern Ireland; both are all too recent in memory.

TSM coverLondon, 1591. Queen Elizabeth has ruled England for over three decades, but the religious fires lit by her father and then – literally – stoked by the Catholic zealots driven on her half-sister Mary, may just be glowing embers now, but the mutual fear and bitterness between followers of the Pope and members of the English church are only ever a breath away from igniting more conflict. Just a few short miles from England’s eastern coast, war still rages between the rebels of The Seventeen Provinces of The Low Countries and the armies of King Philip of Spain.

Nicholas Shelby is a young physician, brought up in the rural calm of Suffolk but, in adulthood, trained in medicine. He has practised his skill among London’s poor but also in the battlefields of Flanders, dressing wounds, binding shattered limbs and offering comfort to the dying. During a dramatic episode in the service of Robert Cecil, the Queen’s spymaster, Shelby has courted death, and endured the trauma of being unable to prevent his wife and child both perishing in childbirth. He has survived a period of suicidal alcoholism and is now slowly putting his life back together in the company of Bianca Merton an Italian born apothecary and keeper of a boisterous tavern – The Jackdaw – on the southern shore of the River Thames.

The arrival of a Venetian ship on Bankside brings not only Bianca’s cousin Bruno Barrani but a violent encounter in The Jackdaw which leaves the Venetian near death with a terrible head wound. Shelby ministers to the grievously wounded Italian, but is then summoned to an unwelcome reunion with the saturnine and deeply dangerous Robert Cecil. Shelby is already aware that Samuel, the young son of his former military commander Sir Joshua Wylde is afflicted with The Falling Sickness (epilepsy) and is being tended in rural Gloucestershire by a controversial Swiss doctor, Arcampora. Shelby has already agreed to give Wylde a second opinion, but when Cecil offers him a large sum of money to do exactly the same thing, he welcomes the opportunity to both repay a favour and line his pockets.

With Shelby is away in Gloucestershire, Bianca discovers that her cousin has brought to England a coded message concealed in the lining of an elegant and expensive pair of gloves. Shelby returns with serious concerns about the welfare of Samuel, and when he and Bianca decode the mysterious message, they realise to their alarm that they have uncovered a plot to use a hitherto-unknown child of Mary Tudor to undermine the rule of Queen Elizabeth and return England to Catholicism.

SW-Perry-photo-1-2-300x482This is a riveting and convincing political thriller that just happens to be set in the sixteenth century. The smells and bells of Elizabethan England are captured in rich and sometime florid prose, while Nicholas and Bianca are perfect protagonists; she, passionate, instinctive and emotionally sensitive; he, brave, resourceful and honest, but with the true Englishman’s reluctance to seize the romantic moment when he should be squeezing it with all his might. SW Perry (right) has clearly done his history homework and he takes us on a fascinating tour through an Elizabethan physic garden, as well as letting us gaze in horror at some of the superstitious nonsense that passed for medicine five centuries ago.

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 21.06.14is a reference to the Rod of Asclepius, which was a staff around which a serpent entwined itself. This Greek symbol has always been associated with healing and medicine, existing even in our time as the badge of the Royal Army Medical Corps. SW Perry’s novel is published by Corvus and is out now.

 

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ON MY SHELF . . . Late May 2019

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STRANGE AFFAIRS, GINGER HAIRS by Arthur Grimestead

SAGHCurrently lengths ahead in the Strangest Title of The Year contest, this novel is by an author who describes it, “Like the King James Bible, Strange Affairs, Ginger Hairs is a wedge of enthralling made up shit.” Set in 1990s Hull, it is the tale of an apparently mediocre northern city and an equally mediocre teenage resident, the titular Ginger, whose escape from mundanity, like that of Bilbo Baggins, is afforded by possession of a gold ring. Ginger’s ring, however, doesn’t draw him into an epic battle with Sauron and his Orcs. Rather closer to home, Ginger’s enemies are some of the meanest and most violent men Humberside has to offer. Arthur Grimestead’s novel is published by Matador and is available now. Arthur has his own website, complete with music –  and endorsements from Boris Yeltsin and Marie Curie.

COME BACK FOR ME by Heidi Perks

CBFMPerks is the best-selling author of Now You See Her (2018) and she follows her debut with this chilling mystery set on an island off the Dorset coast of southern England. Islands and their inhabitants tend to be, well, insular, and prone to strange happenings and dark secrets. Stella Harvey was brought up on Evergreen Island. Her family fled that home a quarter of a century ago, but when a body – long dead – is discovered in the garden of the family home, Stella is compelled to return and solve the grisly mystery. The warm and fondly remembered island atmosphere of her childhood is, however, just that, and she finds that her youthful illusions are shattered by a grim and uncompromising present. Published by Century, Come Back For Me will be out on 1st June as an eBook and in hardback on 11th July.

THE MADNESS LOCKER by EJ Russell

TML033First off, it appears that EJ Russell is no relation to the EJ Russell who writes paranormal romances. This author appears to be a chap, his book is set in Australia, and is as far away from a romance as could be imagined. The story begins with the oft-told but ever horrific account of the Nazi’s attempt to cleanse their Thousand Year Reich of all undesirables, whether they be Jews, the disabled, homosexuals , Roma or those considered as of no worth to the state. A young girl survives Auschwitz – unlike her parents – but decades later seeks to avenge herself on the person she considers individually responsible for her harrowing journey into the jaws of death. Her search takes her to Australia where, in the late 1980s, the body of a widow was found dumped in a wheelie bin. Now, the police have consigned the death to their cold case files, but does the murder hold the key which will unlock Ruth’s search for the truth? The Madness Locker is out on 28th May from Matador.

THE SERPENT’S MARK by SW Perry

TSMEnglish politics? I write this at a time when the height of public disapproval seems to be typified by throwing eggs or milkshakes over people with apparently disagreeable views. Things were a little more harsh in 1591, however, and in the days of Good Queen Bess, a ‘wrong’ view was likely to result in a spell in The Tower, an unpleasant encounter in a torturer’s workshop or a sword thrust through your vitals. SW Perry returns to the turbulent London of heretics, Catholics, plotters and assorted Thames-side lowlife that he had such success with in The Angel’s Mark (2018), of which one reviewer wrote, “Wonderful! Beautiful writing, and Perry’s Elizabethan London is so skilfully evoked, so real that one can almost smell it”. Perry’s new book, once again features physician and reluctant spy Nicholas Shelby, and the all-too-real figure of the Queen’s devious spymaster Robert Cecil. The Serpent’s Mark is published by Corvus and will be available from 6th June

OF CRIME AND HUMANITY by Ma’on Shan

OCAHThe profile of the Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi has taken something of a battering in recent times. From the being the tiny but graceful lady with a will of iron, heroine to all seekers of democracy, her ambivalence over the mistreatment of the Rohinga people has caused some commentators to tone down their eulogies. This book, however, puts ‘The Lady’ back in the context of the Myanmar freedom struggle, and is viewed through the eyes of a young girl who, through no wish of her own, is thrust into the bloody and violent guerilla battle against a brutal military dictatorship. ‘The Lady’ herself, under house arrest, is just too much of a worldwide public figure for the Myanmar generals to do away with, while far away in the jungle, her adherents brutalise others – and themselves – in search of a notional freedom. Ma’on Shan’s novel is published by Matador, and is out now.

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