Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert – A British Library Crime Classic in all senses!

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British Library Crime Classics have done it again! The discovery of a locked room mystery set in a closed community written by an authentic witness to the time, place and setting is a real gift. This novel, set in an Italian Prisoner of War camp in Italy at the time of the British invasion, was written by a man who had been there, as outlined in Martin Edwards’ excellent and informative introduction. This “Second World War Mystery” manages to catch the atmosphere and reality of a large group of men in difficult if not impossible circumstances. Groups and subgroups of the captive British officers make for strange alliances, while the behaviour of the Italian guards and officers is complicated and unpredictable. The urge to escape is one of the overwhelming themes of the book, but not everyone is agreed on the best way, or time, to achieve such an aim. There are times when this does not seem to be a murder mystery, but this is because the authentic details and plot  are written in such depth. The question of “whodunnit” is maintained right until the end, though there is much to distract with red herrings, plots and plans. I recommend this book to all those who appeciate a murder mystery in a terrific historical setting, written at the end of the Golden Age and was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and reveiw this excellent novel.


The novel opens with a discussion between the camp’s officer in charge and the senior British officer, as the situation in Italy becomes more uncertain. There are warnings about escape attempts, that the men should stay in their huts during the evenings.  The various activities are shown, as well as the punishment block. It emerges that there is a man widely supposed to be a traitor in their midst, a man who is possibly supplying the Italians with information about the escape attempts which are always taking place.  Coutoules is generally disliked and many are suspicious of him. The scene changes to Hut C, where the most substantial tunnel is being worked on, in the most secret way possible. As the diggers get further along the tunnel they discover something that is deeply shocking, the body of Coutoules. As the soldiers try to conceal what is presumed to be a murder, the Italians become increasingly suspicious. When the body is surrendered, the Italians begin to take action. An officer called Goyles is asked to investigate among the captive men, and turns amateur detective, trying to weigh up all the available information. This is made nearly impossible as escape attempts are still happening, and the Italians are inflicting their own brand of justice. The mystery remains even when circumstances dramatically change, and this carefully plotted book maintains the tension. 


I found this book a gripping read, with a military humour throughout. It is certainly a great wartime novel of men in challenging circumstances, but it is also a  classic murder mystery which will tax the most dedicated reader in a different way from most books in the genre. Not that this is a cosy book, as there are other deaths and grave danger throughout, but it reads naturally as coming from a writer whose background research must have largely come from experience. This book well deserves its classic status both as a murder mystery novel and a wartime story, and will appear as one of my favourites in this excellent series. 

Recently we went to see the National Theatre production of Small Island at our local cinema, where it was being shown on film. It was incredible. Having read the novel at least twice, and discussed it at two book groups, I was really impressed with this production which brought out the sometimes painful humour and the power of the original. A special feature was the music which really lifted the production, and it was beautifully acted by the entire cast. If you get the chance to see it, it is long, but very good.

Angenga by John Broughton – An adventure in Anglo Saxon England & twenty first century Cambridge

Angenga by John Broughton 


Time travel, Anglo Saxons and physics problems, there is so much going on in this book that it can be quite dizzying. Happily, there is always a date given at each section, which is useful as there is quite a lot of visiting two periods in history. Of course, as one of the subtitles is “When time no longer exists”, this book is not just about time travel, as the main character devotes much effort to the study of time as a concept. Another subtitle is “The disappearance of time”, as Rick tries to work out how he can cope with Cambridge in the twenty first century, as well as visit a village full of Anglo Saxon people. There is adventure, excitement and all sorts of emergencies as Rick and his friends try to do so much in discovering exactly what is going on in life or death situations. Fast paced, generously written and impeccably researched, this book maintained my interest throughout, and is generally a fantastic read. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this exciting book.


The book opens very firmly in the twenty first century in Cambridge. Rick Hughes is a Phd student specialising in Anglo Saxon languages, with a friend who is a part time metal detecting fanatic. Gary gives him an artifact, a pendant, which he has conserved by an archaeologist Dr Esme Drake, with whom he starts a relationship. Unfortunately as their respective academic careers progress, they grow apart. It is only five years later, that Dr Rick is persuaded to visit the site where Gary found the pendant, and they both dress in Anglo Saxon costume for a display. Before long, Rick finds himself in 870AD, in the Anglo Saxon village that once stood on the site. He discovers many things, as he uses his rather esoteric knowledge to speak the language well enough to appear as a mysterious stranger or seer visiting the settlement. Confused by finding his apparent double in a man called Rinc, he manages to return to Cambridge in 2016, to try and track down an explanation for his apparent journey into the past. As a complete novice in the field of physics and the question of Time, he takes the reader along as he meets a Professor of Physics and tries to work out if he has in fact travelled back in time. Meanwhile, his detailed knowledge of the history of the region makes him realise that the community which he has now been welcomed is in danger from the invading Vikings. As he returns to the settlement he does not go alone, and he discovers a lot about the daily life of the community. Thus the reader learns a lot about Anglo Saxon people, especially when tested, and finds that a less complicated lifestyle still has its challenges and life threatening situations. 


This is a book which has many avenues of thought well presented. Funny and often charming, the relationships between the characters are well drawn and dynamic, and make for compelling reading. Though a fictional book there are many points at which I learned a great deal about the scientific questions that are being actively studied which makes many assumptions about the nature of time and historical progression. The world of the Anglo Saxons and indeed some of the Vikings is carefully presented in a lively and engaging way. This is a historical novel with other elements carefully added, and while I am no expert in scientific matters, the arguments seem well established. I enjoyed reading this book, and suggest that will appeal to many people who relish an absorbing adventure.   

The Lost Properties of Love by Sophie Ratcliffe – Connections of the Lost in the history of Self

A book that looks at what is lost on many levels. Through references to “Anna Karenina”  and the novels of Anthony Trollope, this is a book of missed things and the habit of living in a mess. A mixture of short bursts of thought and longer accounts of the messiness of contemporary life, this is an honest reckoning of everything from the contents of handbags to children’s need for fish fingers. The clever use of language throughout this book renders even the most trivial meaningful, and the touching memorable. The minute experiences of train travel is linked to the fictional account of Anna’s, as those who read are seen as symbolic of all readers who can lose themselves in a book. Not a novel, but lots of ideas and reminiscences of life and love, both married and lover, things lost and found. This is a book that looks at Kate Field, mysterious muse of Anthony Trollope, as well as the behaviour of a teenager bereaved at the death of a father. It is the importance of objects in our lives which speak of lives lived, and particularly those cut short, as everyone seems to be on a journey. The subtitle of this book, “An Exhibition of Myself” reveals the painfully honest nature of this text, and the curious mixture of sophistication and sorrow which runs throughout. I was intrigued and pleased to be given the opportunity to read and review this unique book.


“All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” is a quotation from Tolstoy that will run throughout the book. Not that Ratcliffe’s family is unhappy, but she knows of the constant demands of children, of family life, and regards time away on her own as an opportunity to be messy in her own way. The magic of photography reveals so much over the years, from the first experiments with chemicals and glass, through to the occupation of a mysterious lover who takes many photographs. Travel on the underground has its own memories of complicated journeys to school in the company of her beloved father, whose early death haunts the book. As she thinks about his briefcase, left empty of the everyday things he carried, the echo is of the objects which include a bag which she has seen in the Tolstoy museum. More significantly she details the ideas of handbags, the bags carried by women who include Anna, Ratcliffe’s own mother, and Radcliffe herself. The difficulties of finding a bag which will contain all the necessities as well as all the things that accumulate, especially when travelling with children, is particularly significant. The book which can be carried, is indeed carried by Anna, is important, especially when that book is an imaginary Trollope novel, which brings the text back to the enigmatic Kate Field. She worked to advertise the newly manufactured telephone, which reminds Radcliffe of her use of the old fashioned phone as a teenager. 


As Forster emphasised in his novel, this is a book of the vital importance of connections, the links with the past and the present, the mess and the slender chains which connect memories via objects, places with people. This book looks at literature, films and the things that are lost, whether today or long ago, and what they all mean to our lives. This is an unusual book which has a unique format, which soon becomes absorbing. Ratcliffe draws in so many elements that a reread will be necessary to really begin to tie up all the strands. I recommend this as a challenging read which is essentially the story of a life in all its complexity and messy reality.    



Overture – L’ Alouette 1 by Vanessa Couchman – an historical novel of turn of the twentieth century France

Set at the end of the nineteenth century, this well written book is part saga, part a different sort of romance, part a rise from obscurity. Featuring lots of plot lines and some characters who prove not to be as important as first appear, this is a substantial book and the first in a trilogy. There is a lot of impeccable research in this book, centring on a region of France and its agricultural system, life in Paris at the turn of the century, and singers’ approach to the contemporary operas. Furthermore, actual historical events and movements are incorporated into the narrative with great effect. I was sometimes a little surprised how events turned out, but at least it was not as predictable as some historical fiction can sometime prove to be in novels. Marie – Therese is an impressive and memorable character, whose thoughts, actions and reactions are central to the novel. With a huge sweep through the social history of the early twentieth century, this book has many distinctive and significant characters who combine to make an original and fascinating story. I was intrigued and pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.


As the novel opens deep in rural France we first see the clever and talented Marie – Therese having her hopes of further education dashed as the only child of a farming family who need to keep her working, at least until she marries appropriately. We see her in the community which has to work hard to survive, but who join together to celebrate the harvest. When tragedy strikes Marie – Therese has to discover who her real friends are, and then suffers a traumatic incident which forces her to travel to Paris and work with family who are anything but sympathetic. As she settles in to work hard at her aunt’s bistro, she has scant opportunity to explore Paris, and suffers discouragement of her hopes to train as a singer. It is only a chance encounter that revives her hopes and makes her family rethink her ambitions. A transformation in so many ways almost restarts the book; this is a woman who can and does have different priorities, a different perspective on the world. The problems of life change to admit some desperate situations; there are some tense moments which are well handled.


This is an absorbing and interesting book which succeeds in drawing the reader and maintaining interest throughout the novel. The pace is maintained well, with room to explore themes and aspects of life in the early part of the twentieth century for a woman. There are many points at which research triumphs in small and big ways, from great themes of oncoming war to the food and drink products from different regions of France. This is a confident and subtle book, with much to admire in terms of character development and managing the plot. While there are points which do not develop in the way expected, this actually adds to the texture of a book which could be very single tone in other hands. I recommend it as a really good and satisfying read, with much to discover in terms of historical elements, and a well constructed fictional plot.   


We have had a great weekend of Bicentenary celebrations at one of the churches. With concerts and drama, flowers and cakes (so many cakes) it has been a memorable time. It has been pretty exhausting – with more to come!

The Space Between Time by Charlie Laidlaw – a contemporary, funny and confident look at a family

A curious book depicting a life, this is a novel which looks at the interconnectedness between people against a background of much bigger forces. While this is essentially the story of a girl’s relationship with her family, in the background is her grandfather’s theorem of the nature of the universe, and the attractions of planets for each other. Not that there is much science in this novel, as the main character admits that she struggles to understand the mathematics of the science, but the essential humour of the situation is still present. These are big characters in deceptive settings, the bleakness of North Berwick, the warmth of an Italian extended family, the new life that must take place aware. With subtle phrases and hints that define the narrative, this is a novel that keeps the reader on their toes throughout; the author is so comfortable with the plot and characters that he can afford to release the story gradually. This is a funny yet touching book, thoughtful as the main character reacts and sometimes acts within her memorable family. Her asides and realisations of the implications of the actions of others are so telling. There are running jokes, as everyone looks for a non existent swimming pool and casual reference is made to celebrities, especially actors.  I was pleased to be able to read and review this book so soon after publication.


The book opens with an insight into  the character of Emma’s mother, beautiful but troubled, self contradicting and in need of reassurance.  Even as a young child Emma is aware that her mother needs her; as she drives the Bentley she calls it a battleship which attracts attention and is difficult to park. The details are all there of a trip to the cinema as Emma states that she hates cartoons, but bounces in her seat when taken to a film that she struggles to understand, even if she can place the action in Paris. When Emma’s father Paul comes onto the screen, he is seemingly killed, and Emma is loudly distraught. So it emerges that he is and actor on  an upwards trajectory, who seems to love her and her mother, yet spends a lot of time away in London and elsewhere. Emma details her closeness to her mother as an only child, and her deep affection for her Italian Grandfather, a professor of Physics who has produced a book on the secrets of the universe, including probability, and it is these theories which luck in the background of the novel, as the improbable happens and the expected occurs. Emma feels compelled to move on and change her life after a tragic event , but not without her loving descriptions of the flutterings of first love. Major life events and small details both abound throughout this book, grounding a book which also casually mentions Brad Pitt, Judi Dench and others, while acknowledging that there is plenty of money available to her.


This is an enjoyable and intelligent book, which has a strong plot and fascinating characters. Emma maintains her constant commentary of her thoughts, her perceptions and noticing of details. I found the way that facts are dropped in, ideas and images carefully applied and the story is told is so clever. I recommend this book as a contemporary read of great interest and significance, and containing a memorable character in Emma.


Last night I sang in three choir concert in a local church. As the other two choirs were male voice only, the fact that our choir has female altos and sopranos caused much confusion. A few Welsh songs confusingly sung in English, teddy bears for a picnic and  an Abba song all made for an unusual evening!

The Perfect Moment – A Fairhill Novel by Alix Kelso – A community with gentle humour and romance

Romance, community and small businesses, this book offers many elements of a relaxing and enjoyable read. The story of Laura, her life which has been put on hold by a tragedy that haunts her and the actions she takes to preserve what she loves, is generously written. Bruce has been damaged by a relationship, as has his Uncle Keith who has hopes of finding a new love despite the odds. The dialogue of this rich novel is convincing and often funny, as the characters spend time discovering that nothing in life and love runs smoothly, and that even perfect days can be marred by unavoidable hitches.  Not that anything goes to plan in this book of the daily life of a small part of Glasgow, as people realise that what they want is not always possible, or at least in the way they imagined. Old friends and new come together in this book which is intended to be the first in a series. It has been a pleasure to read and review this enjoyable book.


The book opens with Laura dealing with her most awkward customer in the restaurant that she works in, Valentino’s, before her boss drops the bombshell that she selling up and moving on. Devastated from the loss of her security found after a life changing loss, she develops a scheme that will potentially keep Natalie in the area. In doing so she involves her friend Bruce who works in the pub opposite, The Crooked Thistle, who has always found her attractive. Yvonne, her flatmate, suggests that there are many forms of romance, as she pursues her own relationship. When Laura finds herself in desperate need, who will come to her rescue? Will Natalie remain in Glasgow despite her own loss? How will Bruce rebuild his life when he has been so badly let down? What was the bombshell that came at the end of a marriage?  What was Laura’s ambition before her life was overturned in a moment? How will careers and dreams fit together? What is the meaning of a painting which provokes such different reactions?


This book is the sort that is effortless to read and enjoy with its gentle humour.  An intelligent romance with some interesting twists, this book deals with a small geographical area with influences from events elsewhere. I enjoyed the warm sense of community which runs through this book, with the appeal of people who know and care about each other. Even the small characters have their roles to play, and each one has the potential to be interesting and important to the plot. This is the sort of read that would be ideal as a holiday choice, as it is essentially a happy book. Not challenging, but with enough substance to be satisfying.  I do hope that it proves to be the first in a series of books which I am sure will all succeed. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a lighter read, and I look forward to reading more from this undoubtedly talented author.

Meanwhile, back at the Vicarage, we are taking care of two tortoises temporarily. Stanhope (probably female) and Livingstone (probably male) live up to their names as explorers by wandering down the hall having left the study behind. Will Selwyn the Vicarage cat put up with these visitors? Can we get them to eat the interesting selection of green leaves we are supplying them? Will it ever get warm enough for them? Watch this space for more details…


Victoria to Vikings by Trisha Hughes – The Circle of Blood or the royal family from Victoria to Elizabeth II

This is essentially a readable, gossipy and popular book of the history of the reigns of Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and of course, Elizabeth II. It follows two others, Vikings to Virgin, and Virgin to Victoria, in sweeping through the decades following the very personal lives of monarchs and their effect on Britain. It is a book that stands alone in giving a unique perspective on recent history, and its unique appeal is the style in which it is written. Friendly and often informal, the style is of a story well told, not slowed down by notes, footnotes or maps. This is not the dry history of textbooks, but is more gossip about the people behind the dates. As an introduction to the people and period it would work well; for readers who have ever wondered what happened to the youngest brother John in “The King’s Speech”, or why George VI stammered, this is a useful book. It would also appeal to fans of “Victoria”, the popular history series, as it is strong on the motives of those in power, and such questions as to why the queen struggled with her children. It talks about dynastic marriage, the relationship between Britain and countries such as Germany, and the web of family relationships that had such an effect on twentieth century lives.

I was interested to have the opportunity to read and review this interesting book.


The book opens with a Foreword which shows the challenge undertaken by the young Victoria when she came to the throne as an eighteen year old, following a line of unpopular rulers, unattractive and largely unprincipled. This series of books emphasises the way that through complicated lines of descent and a close group of rulers means that Elizabeth II is descended from monarchs from the earliest rulers of the British Isles. There are two family trees which depict this argument, and there are similar themes which run throughout  the book such as the threat of perceived insanity which began with George III, and the problem of Willhelm of Prussia. Hughes is good on death, especially the deaths and final words of kings, and how the death of eldest sons led to their fiances being transferred to younger brothers. Hughes likes the mainstay of newspapers of the times of which she writes in that she retails gossip avidly. The big gift is the suggestion of the real identity of the infamous “Jack the Ripper”, as she expends several pages of the discussions of the possible royal links to the murders of various women in London.


This is a densely written book which does flow very well, and draws the reader in. As Hughes carefully goes back to the life of the monarchs from birth, often into their predecessors’ lives, their are repetitions, as for example that having children “slowed Alexandria down”. This is a book of going off on tangents, as Hughes follows hares throughout the text as well known (in some respects) stories of the ultimate celebrities, the royal families. This is an easy to read, relaxed book of recent history that is attractive and always interesting, which revels in the stories of those rulers that have truly made history, and not always intentionally.  

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness – Being with birds and experiencing a new hope

Mental health, mindfulness and bird watching – a combination that forms the theme of this book. It is not a self help guide, more of a record of one person’s discovery of how he found help for his mental health issues in watching birds. He does, however, add at the end of each chapter a list of recommendations for people who feel inspired to try similar actions. He is eager to point out that his particular type of birdwatching is not the obsessive twitching which sees people hurtling around the countryside on the rumour of a rare bird to view. His brand of birdwatching is more “Taking notice of birds” than obsessing about rare sightings, although the text notes whenever they appear often in surprising circumstances. Starting with a strong Foreword by Chris Packham, this book details a gradual discovery of a new way of life which is based on regular and repeated visits to places where birds are to be found. Harkness is also quick to point out that it not only “official” nature reserves and bird sanctuaries which offer sightings and indeed the pleasure of being with birds, but also town centres and built up areas are occasionally scenes where they can be experienced. This is an important book as it stresses that experiencing birds in their natural habitat is transforming and can make so much difference to a life. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual book for the tour for the book.


The beginning of the book echoes Packham’s Foreword in that it reveals how close Harkness came to suicide. His work as a teacher of special needs young people calls on reserves not only of time and effort, but emotional reserves which affect him on many levels. He discovers that finding birds and learning to identify them gives him pleasure and enjoyment which he experiences as an easing of pressure which he feels intensely. He does not find it easy to become involved initially; more established birdwatchers do not welcome him at sites, he struggles to find a local group, and his first forays into social media are criticised. It takes him a while to gain confidence, to begin to establish how, when and where is best for him to experience birds. He has a chapter about listing sightings, the ticking off of species, the obsessive noting of when and where he has seen them. While he has obviously kept records of dates and places, he decides not to be obsessive about it. He decides that he will take part in surveys and projects that look at bird populations, that revel in the presence of birds in unexpected places. He realises that getting a “patch” where he can regularly visit and explore all the possibilities is necessary for his well being as well as do the research. He finds examples of people being helped by enjoying nature, the variety of habitats, other creatures apart from birds. He writes eloquently of his experiences finding birds, and how it improves his mood.


It is only at the end of the book that he acknowledges that  not everyone is able to access the best areas for bird watching, as they often involve long walks on uneven ground. He applauds the moves towards boarding walkways so wheelchairs can pass.  He also argues the case for attracting birds to gardens with food and other provision. He is also so confident of his discoveries that he hopes “influencers” and medical practitioners will take note. This is a significant book which I hope will be read and found useful by many people. Even if there is little interest in birds themselves, there is much encouragement to experience nature, discover the importance of one’s own company, gain a new perspective on life in this refreshing book.    

Diary of an Ordinary Woman – a novel by Margaret Forster – An authentic view of the twentieth century

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This is a book which spans most of the twentieth century through the eyes of one woman; an ordinary woman by her own admission. Millicent King is a superb creation, a realistic witness to the great events of two World Wars, a relative of some who have died, a participant in some great social upheavals. The clever thing that Forster achieves through this book is to leave gaps, the sort of spaces that someone who kept a diary for most of their lives would probably naturally leave. Thus the run of the mill, routine months and years do not slow down the pace of the book, and the reader is left convinced that this is indeed the life story of a woman who has experienced so much. This is a well written book, full of the challenges of real life, as observed by one person first hand. Lack of communication between family members, unfinished business and the disappointment of other people’s choices are themes that run throughout the book. There is hope, resilience and real affection in this woman as she does her best, does the unpredictable, and records it all. This is an effective book, revealing so much about life in Britain between 1914 and 1995.


The book begins with Millicient as a middle child, aghast that her parents keep having children, annoyed that she has to help look after them. She is not desperately excited by school, but becomes keen on doing a course in teaching as an effort towards independence. With an older brother at the Front, she begins to appreciate the real nature of the War. She meets Tom, but as her family’s fortunes fail tragically she has to work in a shop. When eventually she begins another job, she is suddenly given the opportunity to travel. On her return, she meets other men and she makes the dramatic decision to sleep with one of them, making a conscious and responsible provision. In the background her family develops, changes and sometimes make demands on her, but at all times she tries to keep in touch out of a touching mixture of affection and duty. She meets a man, Robert, through her work, but there are many barriers to their relationship and when she has to assume enormous responsibilities her life dramatically changes. As another war ends she begins to think about the bigger issues and discovers that even an ordinary woman can make a stand.


I think I can recall that some readers made a fuss when they realised that Millicient was a character rather than a woman they could have actually met. Such is the effectiveness of the writing that I could feel the frustration when there was a gap in the diaries, that it was not possible to discover more about this contradictory but impressive woman. Having read several real diaries of women written during the twentieth century, this book is an incredible success in imitation and homage to women who lived through this period with all its challenges. This is sometimes a painful read, but always honest and consistent with the main character. This is a second read for me, and I recommend it as an example of historical fiction at its best.


I really enjoyed rereading this book, despite the fact that I have so many new books to read. It is a really well researched book in every sense.

Meanwhile some deadlines for the conference that I was speaking at have come and gone. Now one of Northernvicar’s two churches has its Bicentenary over the next few weeks, so either I will get a lot of reading done as I sit around in the background, or there will be jobs to be done! Still, a Bicentenary doesn’t happen that often!

The Serpent’s Mark by S.W.Perry – Treason and more in Elizabethan London – with so much to offer

In Elizabethan times, treason was easy to commit, or at least be accused of with little provocation. In this second book featuring Nicholas Shelby, a physician with a past, the suspicion of Catholics and their potential as assassins is still rife. Bianca Merton, apothecary and tavern owner, is a woman with a talent for dangerous situations, already condemned by some as a sorceress and more. Perry takes these two characters and more who will be familiar to Perry’s first book, “The Angel’s Mark”  and gives them new situations to deal with both in the claustrophobia of London and the estates of the rich. He also includes some real characters of the time, such as the charismatic and notorious Kit Marlowe. The combination of brilliantly drawn characters and a terrifically described setting in the streets of London make for a read that is fascinating in detail and touches on some huge subjects. The research that is behind this novel is obviously immense, as Perry manages to get into the speech, the obsessions and the sheer variety of people who would have lived in this part of London at this dynamic time. Well paced, with a keen sense of the dangers faced by every character, as well as the emotions felt, this is a vastly enjoyable book which is very difficult to put down. I was extremely pleased to be given the opportunity to read and review this book.


The book opens with Nicholas and his father, at last revealing the nature of the tragedy which has overwhelmed him. In the process Yeoman Shelby talks about he changes in religious practice that had affected the country during the previous reigns, and the effects that uncertainty has had on everyone. Meanwhile in London Bianca is pleased to have attained the opportunity to pass on her healing knowledge, working with Ned and Rose to run the Jackdaw, determined to attract more patrons. She is keen to visit a ship that has just arrived which has come from her home city of Venice, and pleased to meet a relative who turns out to be a very attractive character. She soon realises that Bruno is involved in more than just trading in rice, and fears for the implications. When Nicholas returns to the tavern she greets him with mixed emotions, as despite his attraction for her, she knows that he is still suffering. He has been asked to look into the case of the son of an old comrade in arms, who is shown to be an imaginative boy who is searching for help. Moreover, the council of physicians has demanded his presence at a hearing that could block his hard won career. He is conflicted by memories as he returns to London, and is painfully aware that his life needs to be reordered. He is summoned to meet an old adversary, and as a result he must undertake a journey to discover what a sinister character is really working towards. Bianca plunges into danger out of concern for Bruno, and has to take quick action to survive.


This is a novel which combines so many elements, and manages to reveal the humanity of individuals as well as convey a sense of the forces which are affecting everyone. I found the book full of small incidents and fascinating detail, impressive research into real people and consistent characters. Perry manages to shift from humourous dialogue to frightening threats, watchfulness to huge issues. I can heartily recommend this book to all fans of historical fiction as it is essentially easy to read, well written and totally involving. This is Tudor Britain with a realistic spin, and achieves so much in building a picture of real people in a genuinely fascinating settling.