Book Review

Photo by Silas Baisch on Unsplash

Over A Torrent Sea, by Christopher L. Bennett

This story is one of the multitudinous episodes in book form in the Star Trek canon, and this particular one is an adventure of the Star Ship Titan; although I wasn’t familiar with this ship, or the events which precede this story, the fact that I know the captain, William Riker, from the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series, means that I felt comfortable reading it, without a steep learning curve required to acquaint myself with a lot of new characters [although there are quite a few]. I’ve never been able to understand how the Stardate system works, but at the beginning of the story, we are given an equivalence between Stardate 58126.3 & 2381 in the current western system: no doubt I could look it up online, if I could be bothered….. There must have been a series of books preceding this one, entitled Star Trek: Destiny, detailing “devastating events”, according to the book’s cover, presumably involving The Federation’s arch-enemies, the Borg, who have, also presumably, been defeated, enabling “Captain William Riker and the crew of the U.S.S. Titan … to resume their deep-space assignment, reaffirming Starfleet’s core principles of peaceful exploration.”

They encounter a very unusual planet, one consisting of a global ocean, with no apparent solid land to be seen anywhere. They [as in, the English-speaking ones] name the planet Droplet and, initially, it appears that it is devoid of any life, sentient or otherwise, but luckily, there is in the crew an aquatic lifeform, Aili Lavena, who is able to explore the oceans freely [and joyfully], unencumbered by the life-support suit she is obliged to wear in gaseous atmospheres; she has also, because her species is unashamedly promiscuous at a specific period in their life-cycles, enjoyed a brief but rewarding liaison with Will Riker, which will become a matter of some embarrassment for him as the story unfolds, especially as he is now in a serious relationship with the ship’s Counsellor, the Betazoid empath Deanna Troi, who must have moved with him from Enterprise, for that very reason: she is in the late stage of pregnancy, having tragically lost a previous baby by miscarriage.

It is discovered that there are, in fact, lifeforms in the ocean, capable of living at great depths, but it isn’t clear whether they are sentient, or simply ‘animal’; because they look like an amalgam of a whale & a squid, they are called squales. The question of sentience is almost resolved when Lavena is rescued from a predator, and it is confirmed when the squales destroy probes which have been submerged to warn them away from an area which would be dangerous for them, as a result of an underwater tsunami; also, Lavena has been able to establish primitive communication with them, as her own language bears some basic similarities, so she learns that technology appears to frighten them. Inevitably, the Federation’s Prime Directive has to be considered when a rogue asteroid appears to be on course for the planet, and Riker has to decide whether they can reveal their extraterrestrial origin, something which has thus far been carefully concealed. Revealing any more would probably spoil the plot which, if you enjoy science fiction in general, and the Star Trek canon specifically, is exemplary of the Star Trek ethos; in particular, how all life, in its great diversity, is precious, and that difference in all forms should be respected, and not feared. The paperback I read should still be available, but it might necessitate some effort in locating: I like to think that effort will be rewarded. It was published in 2009 by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., under exclusive licence from CBS Studios, Inc., ISBN 978-1-4165-9497-0.

Book Review

Photo by Oliver Ash on Unsplash

The Bourne Treachery, by Brian Freeman

Strictly speaking, this is Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Treachery, because the original author has to be credited when a character’s arc is continued; this is Freeman’s second novel in this canon, and an author called Eric Van Lustbader has also written twelve [count them!], in addition to the, by comparison somewhat paltry, three originals. They all have a noun associated with the character’s name, so they are surely soon going to run out of credible options? I suppose we could have The Bourne Tea Party, but I digress 😉 This one was published last year, so Covid is known about, but it doesn’t play a significant rôle in the plot. These stories are pulp, to a large extent, and if you’ve seen any of the films [given that this is a very profitable franchise (aka money-making machine)] you know pretty much what to expect, but as long as you can accept some questionable ethics when justice is dispensed, they make reasonably enjoyable, albeit undemanding reading.

If you’re not familiar with the character, Jason Bourne is a skilled assassin who works for a highly secret [aren’t they all?] ’Black Ops’ organisation, called Treadstone, funded by the American government, but ultimately deniable, and it is tasked with keeping “The Free World” [i.e., America] safe, which generally involves killing people indiscriminately, if they are perceived as presenting a credible threat. Incidentally, there has recently been a television series called Treadstone, which purported to present the organisation’s origin, but I found it very confusing, the way it bounced back & forth in time, and it was difficult to keep track of all the characters, of which there were many, so I gave up on it after about half a dozen episodes. At some point in Bourne’s past, he has suffered an injury or a medical procedure which has robbed him of his long-term memory, which is a very useful plot device, because it means that characters from his past can be introduced, and he won’t know them until it’s possibly too late; although we should know by now that Bourne is a character who can’t be written off too quickly.

At the beginning of this story, Bourne is living in Paris, still unclear about much of his past, and his habits are too regular, but it is almost as if he is tempting possible assassins; Treadstone, from which he is estranged, being one of the candidates; to come after him. He does keep in touch with a particular Treadstone agent though, and through Nash Rollins he learns that his particular skill-set is wanted to neutralise a threat to one of the speakers at the forthcoming annual meeting of the World Trade Organisation in London. The threat comes from a highly skilled & dangerous assassin called Lennon, who three years ago was responsible for murdering a turncoat ex-KGB man named Kotov, whom Bourne & his erstwhile partner and lover, Nova, were exfiltrating from Tallinn, except that the ferry he was travelling on was blown up, killing many innocent people in addition to the target. This action is described in a prologue; Lennon also seems to know an uncomfortable amount of personal information about Bourne himself.

Most of the action which follows is set in London [thankfully, not London, England], and there is even a section located in a north-east coast town I know very well: Whitby! There is the obligatory Dracula reference, of course, but it is only really in passing, and it doesn’t have any bearing on the story; being an actor of ‘a certain age’, I can see that I would be just right for one of the minor characters there, were this episode to make it to the big screen [must call my agent………]. Not a classic of English literature, by any standards, but a good & engaging yarn, so if you like this sort of scenario, I would quite happily recommend this entry in the Bourne canon. The paperback I read was published in 2022 [2021] by Head of Zeus Ltd., part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, ISBN 978-1-7895-4658-3.

Book Review


Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

The Night Hawks, by Elly Griffiths

This is the latest paperback murder mystery for the forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway character, and it was published when Coronavirus was known about, but the narrative’s start date is September 2019, so it must have been written before Covid was starting to cause real concern. There is a later story, The Locked Room, commencing in February 2020, which should have been published in February this year, but not yet in paperback; from the taster of five short chapters at the end of this book, it is clear that Coronavirus is being taken seriously. At the beginning, Ruth is still single and, after a stint at Cambridge University, back living in her beloved cottage in Norfolk with her now nine-year old daughter Kate, Ruth’s previous lover & putative husband having been gently spurned and returned to his native America. Ruth is now Head of Archaeology, superseding her former boss Phil Trent, and she has engaged a lecturer, David Brown, to work under her, but she is already starting to wonder if he was a good choice, because he seems somewhat arrogant, and she conducts a silent monologue of things she would like to say to him, but prefers to refrain from.

Instead of an ancient body, or the remains of one, the first one to be found this time is very much contemporary, by the eponymous Night Hawks, nocturnal metal detectorists, whom Ruth considers to be a nuisance: “They’re not archaeologists. They’re amateurs who charge around looking for treasure. They’ve no idea how to excavate or how to read the context. They just dive in and dig up whatever looks shiny.” David considers this elitism, however: “Detectorists are valid members of the community and these finds belong to the people.” Ruth’s professional opinion is sought by her daughter’s not-so-secret father, DCI Harry Nelson, but David Brown also invites himself along, much to Ruth’s irritation; his comments about the Night Hawks don’t endear him to her either. It appears that the Night Hawks also found something more attractive, which Nelson categorises as “a lot of old metal”, but Ruth is intrigued, and a superficial excavation reveals a broken spear head, possibly Bronze Age; then part of a skull is found, so David is happy, because he was advocating for a dig for his first year students, but Ruth’s primary concern is that the site should be protected.

At first, the contemporary body, that of a young man, is assumed to be a refugee who drowned in the course of trying to enter the country, but his identification leads the inquiry in an unexpected direction, and before long, there is a second death, so perhaps the first death was murder? Ruth is soon called in to excavate the garden of the isolated Black Dog Farm, where there has been an apparent murder/suicide, and after this, events take a distinctly dangerous turn for her… I have come to really enjoy reading the exploits of these characters, and they always seem somehow more relevant when they are set within the context of current circumstances; also, their lives evolve, they are not preserved in aspic, so they are realistic, whilst still being fictional. The paperback I read was published in 2021 by Quercus Editions Ltd., London, ISBN 978-1-78747-784-1.

Book Review

Photo by Ian Cylkowski on Unsplash

A Dedicated Man, by Peter Robinson

This is only the second DCI Banks story, first published way back in 1988, and it is quite a different Chief Inspector Alan Banks we find here from the one with which we [those of us who have watched the excellent TV dramatisations] have become familiar: for a start, he is described as being short, dark and wiry—“in appearance rather like the old Celtic strain of Welshman”, not like the tall, well-built Stephen Tompkinson, who fills the role admirably; plus, he smokes—initially a pipe, then later, when he realises he can’t get on with it, cigarettes—as does everybody else, copiously. Perhaps, by the time he reached the small screen, his character [and peripheral ones] had been subtly tweaked because of health concerns; but it has been some years since I watched early episodes of this canon, so I am prepared to be corrected on that. His familiar colleagues are also conspicuous by their absence: perhaps they were introduced in later stories.

He is also still happily married, living at home with his wife & 2 children: a situation which will deteriorate, sadly, as the stories progress. Banks is still conscious of his outsider status, having only lived in the area [a fictitious area, perhaps in West Yorkshire, possibly based on Helmsley, in North Yorkshire] for 18 months, after relocating from London, but he is also aware that he can use that to his advantage, a notion originally suggested by his superior, the unusually kindly Superintendent Gristhorpe. I was surprised how firmly rooted in the classical & folk traditions his music tastes are, because in later stories he has comfortably embraced a more contemporary catalogue, albeit clinging to what I would, as a “baby boomer”, consider to be the sine qua non era, the 1970s. Murder is always shocking, wherever it occurs, but seemingly more so in small, quiet country areas, where life seems to progress at a comfortable, safe, leisurely pace, so when a retired, but still relatively young University lecturer is found dead by a local farmer, partially buried by a stone field boundary wall, Banks initially struggles to discover a credible motive and, thereby, a likely suspect for the crime.

The victim only had a small social circle, and an evidently loving wife, and no-one was prepared to say anything negative about him: he was the eponymous dedicated man, which makes Banks’s job significantly more difficult, so the enquiries progress slowly; but this makes for a very enjoyable [for me, anyway] pace of narrative, and plenty of opportunities for the reader to speculate on the identity of the killer. Unfortunately, a local teenager takes it upon herself to pursue her own line of enquiry when she feels that Banks hasn’t taken her concerns sufficiently seriously, and suffers drastic consequences as a result. Banks is convinced that the key to solving this murder lies in the past lives of the possible suspects, but as ever, seemingly, people are reluctant to open up about that, for a variety of reasons. Not for the first time in a murder mystery, Sherlock Holmes’s wisdom is invoked to give Banks the final clue to the puzzle, and the killer is identified at an opportune moment although, sadly, not for the previous victims. This is a recent reprint, for which I am grateful, because I always enjoy the opportunity to broaden my knowledge of characters with whom I have become familiar, to learn how their story arcs develop. The paperback I read was published in 2018 [1988], by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, ISBN 978-1-5098-5704-3.

Book Review


image credit: fromthestage.net

No Time Like The Future, by Michael J. Fox

I suppose it would be virtually inevitable that a memoir; of which there are now four; by this personality [I eschew the term celebrity] would include in its title a knowing reference to his most well known and, arguably, celebrated [whilst nevertheless still not condemning him to inclusion in that overused category mentioned above] trilogy of films; although, that said, only one of the others does; but I can happily accept that, for a variety of reasons, which don’t require explanation here. The front cover photograph; an unapologetically simple monochrome study of the man sitting sideways on an ordinary office-style chair; shows him looking straight down the camera lens with a weary, but at the same time, not completely worn-down expression on his face, which conveys, I think, what this volume wants to convey: that he is indisputably down, as a result of the health issues which have beset him over the course of his life hitherto, but by no means is he out.

In addition to the foregoing, the front cover photograph shows a deceptively youthful looking fifty-eight year old man, which is quite surprising, given his well documented tribulations. He was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s Disease in 1991, at the cruelly early age of just twenty-nine, but rather than just giving up and accepting the inevitable; which it is, currently; he used his own resources, of money & influence, to set up a foundation, in his own name [categorically not as an ego-boosting vehicle] to raise global awareness about this scourge and help find a cure; he also engages in advocacy work. This book catalogues his most recent experience to the time of writing; and there is an epilogue, written in August 2020, which includes the arrival of the Covid pandemic, and the consequences ensuing therefrom, so it is almost, albeit not quite, how things stand today. This could be quite a traumatic read, in view of the impact this illness has had upon his life, but thankfully, his trademark wry humour shines from the text to avoid this.

In addition to the degeneration of his physical mobility; which has made something the majority of us take for granted: walking more than a few steps, inadvisable; and, what is understandably more concerning, even frightening, for him, his mental acuity, he also had to contend with a tumour on his spinal cord. He was faced with an awful decision: risk being permanently confined to a wheelchair and never walking again, or have an incredibly delicate operation which, if successful, would result in his being able to continue as he was—disabled, but still mobile, albeit carefully. His wife, Tracy, and his four children were a great source of solace & support in those desperate times, but it is also a measure of the resilience of the man that he decided the risk was worth taking, and the top surgeon in his field calmly & efficiently ensured a successful result; the post-operative delusions ensuing from the combination of the necessary medication were frightening both for him and his family but, thankfully, they were mercifully short-lived.

His recuperation was not entirely trouble-free, however: his determination to return to ambulant independence overrode any semblance of caution he should have exercised when he was back in his New York apartment, assuring his daughter that he would be able to get himself up unaided the following morning, before going off for a very welcome acting opportunity which had been especially made available for him. Predictably, he fell and badly broke his left arm, which meant he was out of action again for an extended period. There is a happy ending to that section of the story, thankfully: although that setback plunged him into a depression, it also acted as a wake-up call to be more realistic about his prospects, and eventually, he was able to do his acting job, which the producer, Spike Lee, had very honourably held open for him; he was also sanguine enough to know that his acting career is all but over, but that that is not the only thing which defines him. His life latterly has not been a triumph of hope over adversity, but there is always hope, where the possibility of a cure is concerned, and most definitely determination, so I found this a rewarding read which I can heartily recommend, and I hope you will too. The hardback version I read was published in 2020, by Headline Publishing Group [UK], ISBN 978-1-4722-7846-3.

Book Review


Photo by Aral Tasher on Unsplash

The Prodigal Daughter, by Jeffrey Archer

Before I commence this review, I have to state, hand on heart, that I have no affection for this author’s political affiliation, but I hope this shouldn’t preclude me from delivering an impartial review of this story, which must be one of his best known ones. I was in the mood for an undemanding read, after having read a few gripping stories, which I have sadly not had the time to review, thanks to circumstances which have required my full attention for a week or so; also, I do tend to become involved with the plot, which can be somewhat wearing, so the occasional undemanding read is a good antidote to that and, although I can’t speak for most of the rest of his oeuvre, without wishing to be in any way derogatory, this story is relatively pedestrian. It is also one of those ‘neither fish nor fowl’ mélanges of American terminology with British spelling but, given that the story concerns itself with the American version of the subject with which the author was well acquainted; i.e., politics; that is hardly surprising—indeed, I would even go so far as to say that it is appropriate.

Another of Archer’s books, Kane and Abel, with which I am not, hitherto, familiar, must, logically, deal with two of the principal characters featured in this book, yet no reference is made to it in this story so, given that this book details the life stories of both characters, as a prelude to the life of the eponymous daughter, I would be curious to know what else the other story might have to add. This is the story of old money [Kane] versus a Polish immigrant [Abel Rosnovski] who makes a roaring success of the hotel trade, as a result of sheer hard work [a characteristic always applauded in America], and his daughter, Florentyna, who harbours political ambitions, almost from birth, so it would seem; before these can be realised, however, she learns her father’s business, through practical experience, working as a shop assistant, after an exemplary education at one of America’s foremost women’s universities, where her outstanding intellect is nurtured. This intellect is encouraged, incidentally, by an English governess, Miss Winifred Tredgold; although Florentyna only discovers this given name after the formidable woman’s death, towards the end of the book.

Early in the story, an implacable enmity between the two men is created, when Kane, on behalf of his company’s bank [partly owned by his family], refuses a loan to Abel for the survival of the hotel group which he has just taken over, following the death of its previous owner; subsequent to this, the two men are metaphorically ‘daggers drawn’ with each other, although Florentyna’s actions will precipitate a meshing of the lives of the two families, which is not easily accepted. This does facilitate Florentyna’s political career, however, and many real characters in American politics are incorporated, to give the story plausibility; and people of my vintage should still be able to remember the political events from the 1960s onwards, psychedelic experiences notwithstanding, so there is a certain nostalgia element to the story as well. This is about as much as can be revealed without spoiling the plot, but if nothing else, this is an interesting lesson in American politics, although the venality & aspirational egotism incorporated therein should come as no great surprise. The praise for Archer on the book is characteristically hyperbolic, but I have no hesitation in commending this as a well-crafted and workmanlike narrative. The paperback I read was published in 2017 [original 1982] by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, ISBN 978-1-5098-0870-0.

Should You Publish Your Book as a Paperback, Audiobook, or Both?

Which publishing option should you choose for your book?

Nicholas C. Rossis

This is a guest post by Junaid Ali, a full-time blogger at The Character Counter. He has successfully grown organic revenue by 74% in 5 months through better analysis of the website and SEO Activities. To grow your website, you can contact him at talhaehsan333@gmail.com.

Should You Publish Your Book as a Paperback, Audiobook, or Both?

Audiobook | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Indie authors must make several tough decisions before publishing their books. Two crucial ones involve what platforms to publish on and how to market the book. The most common advice in the industry is to publish your book in as many formats as possible, including but not limited to audiobook and paperback.

While I assume you will be publishing in E-book format, the question arises if you should also do so in paperback and/or audiobook format. If you are a new indie author still trying to establish your name, then the tips below…

View original post 686 more words

Book Review


Photo by Tom Geerts on Unsplash

The War of the Poor, by Éric Vuillard

This is a very short book; only 66 pages; and set in a large font [not specified, but probably at least 12pt] with wide line spacing; so it should possibly more accurately be described as a booklet or a tract; but no matter: the subject matter is important. It is essentially true, albeit with a certain amount of permissible embroidery, given its historical setting, for the sake of continuity & completeness; it was translated from the original French, La guerre des pauvres, first published in 2019, by an award-winning author in his own right, Mark Polizzotti. I have a few observations about the significance of the text, including a personal connection but, at the risk of appearing to opt for a lazy response, given the fact that this is a non-fiction narrative, there is no plot, as such, to spoil, so I hope my readers will forgive me for quoting in large part from the synopsis at the front of the book, on the inside front cover.

This story concerns a subject which is very important to me, and it is the story of a man whose “terrible and novelesque life casts light on the times in which he lived — a moment when Europe was in flux and history was being written.” So far, so hyperbolic: here I could observe that Europe is again in flux [so what have we learned in between?], but surely, the writing of history is inevitable with the passage of time, so that statement is superfluous? “The history of inequality is a long and terrible one, and it’s not over yet [sadly, true]. The War of the Poor tells the story of a brutal episode from history, not as well known as tales of other popular uprisings, but one that deserves to be told [definitely]. Sixteenth century Europe: the Protestant Reformation takes on the powerful and the privileged. Peasants, the poor living in towns, who are still being promised that equality will be granted to them in heaven, begin to ask themselves: and why not now, here on earth? There follows a furious struggle. Out of this chaos steps Thomas Müntzer: a complex and controversial figure, who sided with neither Martin Luther, nor the Roman Catholic Church. Müntzer encouraged the poor to question why a god who apparently loved them seemed to be on the side of the rich.”

All well & good, and some of my observations could be seen as prejudice, for which I apologise, but they spring from my agnosticism, so I consider The Church, of any flavour, and religion in general, to be fair game. First & foremost, I was somewhat surprised, but also agreeably gratified, to read of a personal connection with the beginning of Müntzer’s ‘career’ in 1520 when, after emerging as a child from the trauma of his father’s execution, and reading The Bible which was produced with the new-fangled process called printing, “he enrolled as a student in Leipzig, then became a priest in Halberstadt  and Brunswick [Braunschweig], then a provost here and there, then, after considerable tribulations among the Lutherite plebeians, he emerged from his hole in 1520, when he was named a preacher in Zwickau.” The beginning of the next chapter nails it for me: “Outside the borders of Saxony [Sachsen], hardly anyone knows Zwickau. It’s just another backwater.” For non-German speakers, there’s an added complication: it’s difficult to pronounce—the combination of the ts consonants, followed by the v pronunciation of the German w is admittedly not easy, but not impossible, with practice. I was there for 6 months at the beginning of 1993; so, only two-and-a-bit years after one of the most momentous events of modern times, whose repercussions were to affect the whole of the soon to be reunited Germany for years to come, and the whole European continent, albeit somewhat less so, and to varying degrees in the different constituent countries. At the end of the GDR, Zwickau was where ‘Trabis’ were built, then VW took the plant over.

My overall concern with the story is that, although Müntzer was fighting for the rights of the common man, he was doing so within the confines of Christianity, and expecting his followers to be willing adherents also; it is reasonable to argue that those were the times in which they lived, when morality & religious observance were seen as inseparable, but he did set himself up as a fundamentalist demagogue: “He cited Luke: ‘Bring hither mine enemies, and slay them before me.’ He cited the psalms: ‘The Lord will smash down the old pots of clay with his rod of iron.’ … But … Müntzer introduced another populace, more invasive and tumultuous, a real populace, the poor laity and the peasants. This was a far cry from the catechistic generality of kindly Christian folk; now it was about ordinary people.” It all ended badly, of course: after several armed confrontations, and even a few victories, Müntzer was captured and beheaded, leaving history to be written by the victors. “These scurrilous legends come along to bow the heads of renegades only after they have been denied the right to speak. Their sole purpose is to make the tormenting voice sound within us, the voice of order, to which we are ultimately so attached that we surrender to its mysteries and hand it our lives.” Apparently, “Nietzsche took inspiration from him, from the Müntzerese gush and extravagance. But Müntzer is a man of action … He quotes Daniel: ‘Power will be given to the people.’ We’re a long way from Nietzsche.”

We’re also a long way from “Power [being] given to the people”, but at least the power of religion is being cumulatively reduced, although we still have some way to go. The paperback I read was published in 2022 [2021] by Picador, London, ISBN 978-1-5290-3855-2.

Book Review

Photo by Simon Hermans on Unsplash

The Night Gate, by Peter May

Once again, Peter May has produced a layered and tense thriller which delivers in spades. The book’s title could be considered a distraction, given that it takes a while for its significance to be realised, but this is a very minor concern: overall, the narrative is well constructed, and it is bang up to date, embracing, rather than avoiding or ignoring the inexorable tide of infectious illness which has swept the world over two years, and is only now showing signs of abating. The protagonist, Enzo Macleod, is slightly unusual, in that he is a Scot by birth, with an Italian given name, but living & working in Cahors, south west France for enough years to allow him to become established, but without necessarily considering himself entrenched, in his chosen profession, forensic criminal investigation. His past personal life is somewhat complicated, and doesn’t really require exposition here, but suffice to say that he is now happily married to the significantly younger Dominique, who worked as an investigating officer in the Gendarmerie, and he has, in addition to a Scottish adult daughter, Kirsty, an adolescent son, Laurent, and another adult daughter, Sophie, who is currently in the late stages of pregnancy, hoping for a safe delivery after two previous miscarriages.

While on tenterhooks about the forthcoming birth, Enzo is invited, via an erstwhile almost-lover, a Gendarme named Hélène, by an old acquaintance, a forensic archaeologist named Professor Magali Blanc, to assist in investigating a very ‘cold’ case: a recently unearthed unsolved murder in a village, Carennac, situated on a bend of the Dordogne river, roughly an hour north of his home in the Lot valley. Enzo is initially reluctant to get back ‘in harness’, given that he is “retired from all that these days…Five years since I packed in my position at Paul Sabatier.” His former position is unspecified, but Paul Sabatier is a prestigious university in Toulouse, and he is revered as having “forensic talents”, so it is likely that he would have specialised, and probably lectured in one of the Life Sciences. When he learns that the seventy-five years old, or possibly more, remains are those of “a ranking officer of the Luftwaffe with a bullet hole in his skull, shallow-buried in a tiny medieval village…[which] wouldn’t exactly fit a conventional wartime scenario”, he is sufficiently intrigued to make the trip. When he & Dominique get there, they are informed by the local Gendarmerie Capitaine Arnaud, who happens to be a fan of Enzo’s skill, that the reason he is there is because there was a murder in the vicinity the previous day and, given his reverence for Enzo, persuades him to also take a look at this crime while it is still fresh.

There is a suspect for the new murder, but he has absconded, and thereafter, when Enzo starts investigating, the narrative broadens out to encompass events which took place in the early years of world war two, contemporary participants in these events, and how it becomes clear that these two murders are inextricably connected. The narrative alternates between the present, and wartime France, with the earlier events partly narrated by a current resident of the house where the latest murder occurred, and partly in third-person exposition; this could be a recipe for confusion, but May holds these temporally distanced threads together well. The main premise of the story is a proposition which is plausible, given the circumstances of the war in question, but which is impossible to prove, given its audacious nature; more cannot be revealed here! There is also added jeopardy as the hunt for the perpetrator intensifies, because a new lockdown was imposed in France at the end of October 2020, so Enzo only had a limited time in which to resolve the case, before his freedom of movement was curtailed. The description of the landscape in which the case unfolds is quite enticing, and I found it helpful to have a good map of the country to follow the characters’ movements. I can happily recommend this book, and the paperback I read was published in 2021 by riverrun, an imprint of Quercus Editions Ltd., London, ISBN 978-1-78429-508-0.

Book Review

Photo by Soyoung Han on Unsplash

A Study in Crimson, by Robert J. Harris

In common with his near namesake, this Robert Harris seems to enjoy writing books which are tributes to historical characters such as Leonardo da Vinci & William Shakespeare; but he has also written two Richard Hannay books and, more pertinently for this review, The Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries, “a series featuring the youthful adventures of the creator of Sherlock Holmes”, which I am presuming are young adult stories, despite the front blurb nor specifying that. The inspiration for this iteration of the inimitable sleuth, subtitled Sherlock Holmes 1942, was the series of British films featuring Basil Rathbone as Holmes, and Nigel Bruce as Watson: “films which…have been favourites of [his] entire family for many years.” As far as he is aware, “it has never occurred to anyone to base a novel on this version of Sherlock Holmes.” He felt that he could “remain faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal characters, while at the same time viewing Holmes and Watson in a new light.” I suppose that is perfectly reasonable [although purists would probably disagree], and characters as strong as these would probably work in any timeframe, as evidenced IMHO by the success as the oft sobriqueted Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman in current times.

It might be interesting to compare this iteration with the Sherlock Holmes pastiche, set in a similar time period [but with Holmes ageing from his original setting] by Michael Chabon, The Final Solution, which I reviewed here; this story retains the traditional Baker Street setting, merely transposed to 1942, and I feel that the only hint of criticism which could be levelled is that, notwithstanding the relatively quieter atmosphere after the exigencies of the Blitz, the war impinges on the story hardly at all—that aside, it is easy to accept that this is the natural temporal home for Holmes. There is a slightly odd prologue to the story; although not listed as such, and it runs over three chapters; which doesn’t seem to have any connection to, or bearing on the main story, other than to introduce the characters, but I would venture to suggest that the vast majority of readers would already be well acquainted with them? No matter: at worst, it is an amusing diversion before the gore of the main story is encountered. It appears that someone; presumably a man; has taken it upon himself to emulate the ghastly exploits in London of Jack the Ripper, in 1888, ‘operating’ under the moniker of Crimson Jack, hence the book’s title. Aside from Holmes’s inherent disgust at such heinous activity, given the setting, there is also the national security aspect to consider, which is where Holmes’s less well known, but arguably [not least by himself] more intelligent older brother, Mycroft, comes in; all too briefly, unfortunately, as the interplay between the two brothers can be a very rewarding source of amusement.

As for why that particular time was chosen for this awful repetition, more cannot be revealed without spoiling the nuance of the plot, but suffice to say that Holmes solves the case with his usual aplomb; albeit not immediately; but the motivation for the murderer might not be what it initially seems, and the perpetrator is very clever at leading most of his pursuers in a merry dance. Watson is suitably mystified, although not to the point of potential ridicule: Harris is keen to point out that, despite Watson being “sometimes made a figure of fun for the sake of comic relief”, he has “not followed that course in the novel, though Watson remains suitably baffled by Holmes’s brilliance.” Well, it wouldn’t be a Holmes & Watson story otherwise, would it? Incidentally, towards the end of the story, Holmes reveals that he knows the identity of the original Jack, who is actually a fictional character, but he is apparently based upon one of the real suspects in the Whitechapel murders [you’ll have to read the book to find out whom!]; this will be moot, of course, given the lack of supporting evidence, especially DNA, and the time elapsed—I make no further comment, other than to observe that any further entries in this canon would be welcomed. The paperback I read was published in 2022 [2020] by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd., Edinburgh, ISBN 978-1-84697-596-7.