The Thief Taker by C.S. Quinn

 

Description: The year is 1665. Black Death ravages London. A killer stalks the streets in a plague doctor’s hood and mask.

When a girl is gruesomely murdered, thief taker Charlie Tuesday reluctantly agrees to take on the case. But the horrific remains tell him this is no isolated death. The killer’s mad appetites are part of a master plan that could destroy London – and reveal the dark secrets of Charlie’s own past.

Now the thief taker must find this murderous mastermind before the plague obliterates the evidence street by street. This terrifying pursuit will take Charlie deep into the black underbelly of old London, where alchemy, witchcraft and blood-spells collide.

In a city drowned in darkness, death could be the most powerful magic of all.

Opening: London, 1665
In the year of the Black Death London is a city of half-timbered houses and dark towers. In the narrow backstreets, astrologists predict the future, and alchemists conjure wonders. Traitors’ heads line London Bridge, where witches sell potions, and gamesters turn cards. The river flowing beneath lands a daily cargo of smuggler gangs and pirates.

Loved this from the very start: it is gory, graphic and dead gruesome. Many gizzard for dinner scenes so I suppose this is not for the squeamish, and the murdering hulk is terrifying so this is not for the shiverers either. Rest assured though, it is not a horror fic by any stretch of the imagination. The Thief Taker for all its grisly subject is written in a very upbeat fashion. I would loath to call it YA because lots of people have a very prejudiced mindset when it comes to that shelf. It is a highly enjoyable piece of hist-fic fluff.

Holborn Bridge: 1831 Drawn by Tho. H. Shepherd. Engraved by M. Woolnoth.

What a debut, and ike Oliver Twist, I’m asking for more of Charlie Tuesday. Three point five plague hoods rounded up for the sites that do not operate on half ratings.

Endorsed by my Peter James: ‘Quinn is a brilliant new talent!’
Images from the book

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Dead Men’s Bones by James Oswald

Dead Men's Bones (Inspector McLean, #4)

bookshelves: summer-2014, published-2014, mystery-thriller, series, newtome-author, e-book, fife, britain-scotland, ipad, casual-violence, contemporary, cults-societies-brotherhoods, execution, eye-scorcher, games-people-play, gangsters, gorefest, lifestyles-deathstyles, mental-health, net-galley, ouch, recreational-homicide, revenge, sleazy, superstitions, suicide, twist-on-a-theme

Read from August 02 to 03, 2014

 

Description: Dead Men’s Bones is the fourth novel in James Oswald’s phenomenal Inspector Mclean series set in Edinburgh.

The body of a prominent Scottish MP is discovered outside his home, a remote house in North East Fife. In a horrifying attack, Andrew Weatherly has killed his wife and two young daughters, before turning his gun on himself.

The question on everyone’s lips is why would this successful and wealthy man commit such a gruesome crime?

Inspector Tony McLean is surprised to find himself at the centre of this high profile investigation. The deeper he digs, the more McLean realizes he is being used in a game between shadowy factions from the world of power and privilege.

Pressure is on to wrap up the case. That would go against everything McLean believes in . . . but to carry on will threaten the lives of his closest friends and colleagues.

Opening: The pain is everywhere.
It pulses through his head is if there’s a hole in his skull and someone is squeezing his brain in time to his heart beat.

Several pals have reported that series is incredibly good and given this, my only foray so far, proves them right. It is the marvellous tone of the proceedings that makes this book stand out: the backdrop of Scotland in referendum year, the police coming to terms with Police Scotland and all the insecurities roiling in the wake of these issues. A lot of space is given over to ex-soldiers being unable to connect or settle down to civvy life after the horrors of Afghanistan and Iraq, so they become foot soldiers in the army of the homeless; a stark look at how Community Care fails in the bigger picture.

Inspector McLean is a man with recent injuries and who has to attend physiotherapy and counselling sessions and I mean to backtrack to the previous books to find out the answers to some of my questions, however this works well enough as a standalone.

The middle section of this story was eye-scorching, nevertheless, slight cracks started appearing towards the end; a supernatural element was alluded to on several occasions that seemed at odds with the story that had gone before. It could be posited that this was excellent police procedural for a good three quarters and then it seemed to change genre and leave some unresolved issues. For these issues Dead Man’s Bones loses glister where more patience in the fine-tuning would have made all the difference.

Would I recommend it? Oh yes, but with the above caveats. Three and a half bowls from Bobby’s soup kitchen.

‘The Bull’ Roslin Glen

Roslin Glen, cup and ring marks

————————————————————

James Oswald is the author of the Detective Inspector McLean series of crime novels. The first three, Natural Causes, The Book of Souls and The Hangman’s Song are also available as Penguin paperbacks and ebooks. He has written an epic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro, which is published by Penguin, as well as comic scripts and short stories.

In his spare time he runs a 350-acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep.

Speaks the Nightbird (Matthew Corbett, #1) by Robert McCammon

 

Description: The Carolinas, 1699: The citizens of Fount Royal believe a witch has cursed their town with inexplicable tragedies – and they demand that beautiful widow Rachel Howarth be tried and executed for witchcraft. Presiding over the trial is traveling magistrate Issac Woodward, aided by his astute young clerk, Matthew Corbett. Believing in Rachel’s innocence, Matthew will soon confront the true evil at work in Fount Royal….
Evil Unveiled
After hearing damning testimony, magistrate Woodward sentences the accused witch to death by burning. Desperate to exonerate the woman he has come to love, Matthew begins his own investigation among the townspeople. Piecing together the truth, he has no choice but to vanquish a force more malevolent than witchcraft in order to save his beloved Rachel – and free Fount Royal from the menace claiming innocent lives.

4* Gone South
CR Speaks the Nightbird (Matthew Corbett, #1)

Somewhere down below there is a comment that this was written by a mid-life crisis guy who wasn’t having his bedroom needs resolved. Probably nearer the truth than said author would care to acknowledge. You can’t get away from the fact that this is written purely from a male POV, and some of it right from the playground and it would fail the Bechdel test in fine style.

However.

This was an eye-scorcher of epic proportions that at times felt rather long-winded and at other points I was breathless with anticipation. Quite the nail-biting period-piece murder-mystery.

Supernatural? No.

Horror? Hell no.

Just a riveting story that could have been a five star if McCammon shown more style, and have dropped a couple of scenes that were graphic and pointless.

Four Spanish coins from the belly of a turtle.

My Tibetan Childhood: When Ice Shattered Stone by Naktsang Nulo, Angus Cargill (Translation)

bookshelves: e-book, net-galley, translation, tibet, nonfiction, autobiography-memoir, history, spring-2014, buddhism, bullies, casual-violence, censorship, colonial-overlords, families, gangsters, ipad, lifestyles-deathstyles, ouch, politics, rid-the-world-of-tyrants, true-grime, published-2007, racism, religion, bucolic-or-pastoral, execution, superstitions, tragedy, war

Read from May 08 to 11, 2014


Translation provided by Angus Carghill and Sonam Lhamo

Including a foreword by The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

Description: In My Tibetan Chldhood, Naktsang Nulo recalls his life in Tibet’s Amdo region during the 1950s. From the perspective of himself at age ten, he describes his upbringing as a nomad on Tibet’s eastern plateau. He depicts pilgrimages to monasteries, including a 1500-mile horseback expedition his family made to and from Lhasa. A year or so later, they attempted that same journey as they fled from advancing Chinese troops. Naktsang’s father joined and was killed in the little-known 1958 Amdo rebellion against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the armed branch of the Chinese Communist Party. During the next year, the author and his brother were imprisoned in a camp where, after the onset of famine, very few children survived.

The real significance of this episodic narrative is the way it shows, through the eyes of a child, the suppressed histories of China’s invasion of Tibet. The author’s matter-of-fact accounts cast the atrocities that he relays in stark relief. Remarkably, Naktsang lived to tell his tale. His book was published in 2007 in China, where it was a bestseller before the Chinese government banned it in 2010. It is the most reprinted modern Tibetan literary work. This translation makes a fascinating if painful period of modern Tibetan history accessible in English.

The author and his brother in Chinese clothing at their first government school.

Opening to the Prelude: It was hot at noon that day. We were making our way wearily across a river when we heard guns firing repeatedly from up ahead. We had no idea what was going on, but we were all frightened. Everyone dismounted except for me. Some Tibetan gazelles, startled when they saw us, sprinted to the top of a mountain. I rode over and looked down to the road beneath. It was a Chinese military column, so long that you couldn’t see the beginning or the end of it. They were on horseback.

This autobiography opens out with Nulo’s early memories when there were many battles between the tent peoples, or nomads, on the grassy plains: one chiefdom or clan against another, and retributions sought. Another hazard was the nightime roving of armed bandits.

Written from the memory and onto the page, My Tibetan Childhood is a straight forward and compelling look at old Tibetan customs being smashed to pieces under the Chinese wrecking-ball. There are no hysterics here, nothing mawkish to clutch at pearls and weep into embroidered hankies about – the plain facts are too awful for that sort of pantomime. Just a plain recounting through a young man’s eyes.

Pranks, adventures, superstitions and some tears before bedtime: the story of youth everywhere. It was enjoyiable to read about Nulo’s young escapades and the hazards that life on the grassy plateau threw at him. However, as the Chinese troops come nearer the read becomes darker and infinitely vicious and some parts are tough to read.

This is an important book, one of the defining reads that makes one want to say ‘if you haven’t read this, then we have little in common.’

Sky burial details, murder and torture may disturb, not least because the words are unembellished, however the squeamish can quickly skim over the facts.

The Northeastern part of Amdo was where our author was born. Today, The Han-Chinese is a majority in the eastern part of Qinghai and the provincial capital Xining.

A Tibetan Intellectual, Naktsang Nulo, Shares His Thoughts on Self-Immolations in Tibet (from Jan 2013)

About the author: Naktsang Nulo (born in 1949) worked as an official in the Chinese government, serving as a primary school teacher, police officer, judge, prison governor, and county leader in Qinghai province, China, before retiring in 1993. Angus Cargill was formerly a Lecturer in the Department of Tibetan Language and Literature at Minzu University of China, Beijing.

Trivia: Coral plays a great part in Tibetan culture. It must be that at one time Tibet must have been covered with ocean.

“With little comment or condemnation, [My Tibetan Childhood] records the price paid in lives and lifestyles by the author’s family and community for their incorporation into modern China. . . . In many senses, it is a naive story, the chronicle of a world seen through a child’s eyes. But to readers within Tibet, it was a revelation. It told of epochal events that had rarely if ever been described before in print.”— Robert Barnett, from the introduction.

“As Naktsang tells it, the 1950s were a time of tremendous change: violence, war, exile, survival, and life and death defined so much of the everyday in Amdo and indeed across much of the Tibetan plateau. Told from the perspective of a child, his tale takes us into the complex and at times violent world of Tibetan clans and chiefs. We travel with him and experience the dangers faced on the road: bandits, soldiers, ferocious storms and cold fronts, and hungry wolves. . . . [And we] learn much of the violence that accompanied the ‘peaceful liberation’ of Amdo and the subsequent ‘reforms’ in the late 1950s.”—Ralph A. Litzinger, from the foreword.

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In Search of Staszewski by Kenneth Fedzin

bookshelves: e-book, net-galley, published-2014, nonfiction, holocaust-genocide, wwii, biography, poland, history, families, yorkshire, ukraine, true-grime, totalitarian, slavic, rid-the-world-of-tyrants, ouch, gulp, gangsters, execution, casual-violence

Read from May 02 to 03, 2014


Netgalley and Troubador Publishing Ltd/Matador

Description: “However horrible the past may have been, forgetting it would make the future even worse.”
International Historical-Enlightenment Human Rights and Humanitarian Society Memorial, Moscow.

Set around the time of the 1863 Uprising and World War II, In Search of Staszewski is a powerful and moving real life account of a Polish family’s six-year ordeal and fight for survival under Soviet Oppression.

Focusing on a family that were victims of Tsarist Russia’s oppression, the book also investigates Stalin’s brutal regime and the dreaded Gulag system where, in addition to millions of Russian citizens, hundreds of thousands of innocent Poles died as a result. Some survived and escaped the Soviet ‘paradise’, going on to fight courageously alongside allied forces during World War II.

Investigated and told by the son of a survivor, who only learned the truth after the sudden death of his father, two strands of detailed investigation are woven into an emotional journey of discovery, uncovering the shocking details his father was so reluctant to speak about. In Search of Staszewski is not only the story of a fight for survival by four generations of one family, but also of a people’s struggle to preserve their cultural and national identity in the face of powerful neighbours.

Inspired by authors such as Norman Davies, Orlando Figes, and Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Applebaum,In Search of Staszewski uncovers the truth surrounding a little known and largely untold episode of World War II history that will surprise and shock fans of historical and biographical non-fiction works.

Dedication: In memory of my father, Jan Fedzin

Extract from the preface: The terrible human suffering perpetrated on six million Jews in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War is well documented and well understood throughout the world. This chapter of history has been covered in great depth by historians, students and film makers. However, the suffering of an estimated 1.7 million people ‘unfortunate’ enough to be forcibly removed by the Soviets from their homes in Poland to labour camps in Siberia during World War Two is not so well known.

This opens with a young lad riding on the crossbar of his father’s bike and the setting is the Heavy Wool manufacturing town of Dewsbury, Yorkshire.

This Fedzin family history is unravelled with such a quiet and modest tone it reminded me of the horrors behind the opening track of Amused to Death: Ballad for Bill Hubbard. As each page rolls past the horrors escalate and makes for a gruelling read; I think that using the dead bodies to fuel the locomotive on its way to Archangel will stay with me forever. And what about those Ukrainian Nationalists, that too was a horrible eye-opener.

It would be an insult to all those who were murdered, maimed or disposessed but especially to Kenneth Fedzin and his family, to trivialise this book with a rating. Thank you for sharing, Mr Fedzin.

Monument to the Fallen in the East

Kolyma Highway. Gold fields were discovered far from the port of Magadan in a region inhabited only by nomads

The Golden Kolyma. The adjective “golden” in the painting’s title is derived from the larch tree, which is ubiquitous in the region

The Chelbania gold mine in Kolyma, 1943. CREDIT: Tomasz Kizny

Kolyma Summer. The most difficult to reach gold deposits were in the extreme climate of the Indigirka permafrost regions.

See more of Getman’s work in Art of the Gulag

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

bookshelves: autumn-2012, slavic, nonfiction, ouch, nobel-laureate, fraudio, epic-proportions, autobiography-memoir, boo-scary, bullies, execution, gangsters, holocaust-genocide, lifestyles-deathstyles, philosophy, politics, published-1958, racism, recreational-homicide, true-grime

Read from September 08 to October 28, 2012


blurb – The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn’s attempt to compile a literary-historical record of the vast system of prisons and labour camps that came into being shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917 and that underwent an enormous expansion during the rule of Stalin from 1924 to 1953. Various sections of the three volumes describe the arrest, interrogation, conviction, transportation, and imprisonment of the Gulag’s victims by Soviet authorities over four decades. The work mingles historical exposition and Solzhenitsyn’s own autobiographical accounts with the voluminous personal testimony of other inmates that he collected and committed to memory during his imprisonment.Upon publication of the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn was immediately attacked in the Soviet press. Despite the intense interest in his fate that was shown in the West, he was arrested and charged with treason on February 12, 1974, and was exiled from the Soviet Union the following day.

Map of the Gulags

Image: An abandoned guard tower in one of hundreds of gulags (prison camps) across the Soviet Union, remains as a symbol of profound human suffering. First instituted by Lenin to imprison priests, political opponents, and common criminals, Stalin was then responsible for sending 12-15 million people to these camps. The prisoners were used as forced labor to work on massive industrial projects. As more laborers were needed for bigger projects and those falling behind schedule, Stalin justified the arrests of more people to be sent to the gulags. Millions were executed in these camps or perished as they labored on massive modernization schemes. It is said of the Siberian railroad project that the work was never done, nothing was achieved and it went nowhere. (credit: Jonathan Lewis)

Gruelling yet important; shocks one to the very core. Some books are best left unrated.

Lady of the Shades by Darren Shan

bookshelves: published-2012, tbr-busting-2014, fraudio, london, mystery-thriller, spring-2014, adventure, betrayal, books-about-books-and-book-shops, bullies, casual-violence, chile, contemporary, execution, gangsters, ghosties-ghoulies, lifestyles-deathstyles, newtome-author, noir, ouch, recreational-homicide, revenge, under-500-ratings, eye-scorcher

Read from March 04 to April 15, 2014

 

rosado mp3

Description: Ed, an American author on the hunt for a story for his next book, arrives in London looking for inspiration. A stranger in a strange city, he’s haunted by a deadly secret that refuses to stay buried, and no matter how hard he tries he cannot escape the manifest sins of his past.
What Ed wants is answers, what he finds is something he definitely didn’t bargain for: the beautiful and untouchable Andeanna Menderes. Andeanna is a woman who is dangerously bound to one of London’s most notorious crime lords, and if they are caught together it could mean death for them both.
Ensnared in an illicit affair that can only be conducted in the shadows, Ed’s world is turned upside down as a series of shattering revelations blurs the line between what’s real and what’s not…

If I had looked closely into the premise of this giftee then it would never have been listened to and what a shame that would have been. A tricksy plotline that forever leaves the reader on the back foot*, coupled with some creditable writing

*although I did suss it out before the end, yet couldn’t wait to see if the right conclusion had been reached. Eye-scorching fun.