The Czar’s Madman by Jaan Kross

 

spotted on Nancy’s update

Translated by Anselm Hollo from the Finish edition by Ivo Iliste: so this is a translation of a translation uh-oh!

Estonia under Imperial Russia 1850

Opening: First, let me recall the occasion that impelled me to begin this journal.

Alexander I of Russia

Schlusselburg Fortress

The ‘Mad’ Tsar, Paul I

The translation is a bit ropey, however one becomes so engrossed in the story, that doesn’t seem to matter. Started to get well and truly fed up with the journal-keeping bro’ by page 100 or so.

Toyed between 3 and 4* and went for the lower because of the translation and that annoying brother. That said, I am pleased to have read another perspective on the era that leads up to the revolution.

Dark Fire

bookshelves: historical-fiction, re-visit-2014, radio-4, summer-2014, tudor, mystery-thriller

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from May 04, 2008 to September 05, 2014

 

1ST ENCOUNTER – PAPER READ: Not quite as good as the first Matthew Shardlake story, nevertheless a good tale with full attention paid to historical detail.

2ND ENCOUNTER – BBC radio dramatisation:

R4 in ten episodes HUZZAH!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04f9frh

BBC description: Gripping dramatisation of C. J. Sansom’s atmospheric Tudor crime novel set during the last days of Thomas Cromwell.

London, 1540, hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake has lived quietly in the three years since he was asked by Cromwell to investigate a murder at Scarnsea monastery on England’s south coast (a story told in “Dissolution”). But his quiet life is soon forgotten as he rushes to solve two very different but urgent mysteries: save the life of a young girl accused of a terrible murder; and, discover who has stolen the last precious batch of Greek Fire, a mythical weapon of mass destruction.

Accompanied by Cromwell’s man – the young and impetuous Barak – Shardlake desperately searches for clues against the backdrop of a hot and stinking London summer.

A fast and furious crime drama, “Dark Fire” features ethical dilemmas, intriguing characters and a luminous historical setting. Starring Justin Salinger as Shardlake, Bryan Dick as Barak and Robert Glenister as Thomas Cromwell.

Written by C. J. Sansom
Dramatised by Colin MacDonald
Produced and directed by Kirsteen Cameron

1/10 Dramatisation of CJ Sansom’s Tudor crime novel, featuring lawyer detective hero Shardlake

2/10 Thomas Cromwell summons Shardlake, and engages him to undertake a deadly secret mission.

3/10 The search for the stolen Greek Fire intensifies as Shardlake questions the key suspects.

4/10 Shardlake and Barak’s investigation leads them to the ruins of St Bartholew’s monastery.

5/10 Shardlake focuses on helping Elizabeth Wentworth, accused of murdering her young cousin.

6/10 Whoever is behind the Greek Fire theft will do anything to keep it from the Earl of Essex.

7/10 With Shardlake’s lack of progress, Cromwell reveals that he fears losing the King’s favour

8/10 Trapped inside the burning house, Shardlake witnesses the destructive power of Greek Fire.

9/10 Shardlake and Barak finally discover who lies behind the plot to bring down Cromwell.

10/10 Held at knifepoint, can Shardlake and Barak escape to warn the Earl about the plot?

Of course it was lovely to revisit via radio but I have to say, there ain’t nothing better than curling up with this series in its full paper glory. The Shardlake books are my favourite hist-fic, hands down.

5* Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake, #1)
4* Dark Fire (Matthew Shardlake, #2)
5* Sovereign (Matthew Shardlake, #3)
5* Revelation (Matthew Shardlake, #4)
4* Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake, #5)
TR Lamentation (Matthew Shardlake, #6)

3* Dominion
5* Winter in Madrid
3* The Lost Prophecies (The Medieval Murderers, #4)

The Noble Outlaw (Crowner John Mystery #11) by Bernard Knight

 

Paul Matthews narrates

Description: When Matthew Morcok, a former master saddler, is found mummified above a renovated school, the authorities call on Sir John de Wolfe and coroner’s clerk Thomas de Peyne to stop what is fast becoming a campaign of terror. Later victims include a master glazier, who’s strangled, and a candle maker impaled through the eye. John’s work is complicated by the conflict between his shady brother-in-law, Richard de Revelle, and Nick of the Moor, an outlaw who returned from the Crusades to find his estates expropriated by de Revelle and de Revelle’s cronies. John makes an arduous wintertime journey into Dartmoor to meet Nick, who’s actually a knight, Nicholas de Arundell. Nick’s plight so moves John that he takes the outlaw’s case to England’s Chief Justiciar for resolution.

A good, solid series so long as the episodes are not encountered back-to-back. Knight’s style is rather old-fashioned and brutish, however he does give us an interesting over-arching personal story with Nesta and Matilda.

3* The Tinner’s Corpse (Crowner John Mystery #5)
3* The Grim Reaper (Crowner John Mystery #6)
3* Fear in the Forest (Crowner John Mystery #7)
3* The Witch Hunter (Crowner John Mystery #8)
3* Figure of Hate (Crowner John Mystery #9)
3* The Noble Outlaw (Crowner John Mystery #11)
TR Crowner Royal (Crowner John Mystery, #13)
3* A Plague of Heretics (Crowner John Mystery #14)

The Master of Ballantrae

 

bookshelves: adventure, classic, historical-fiction, revenge, britain-scotland, victorian, seven-seas, war, published-1889, hardback

Read in June, 2009, read count: 2

 

Description: Set in Scotland during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, in the exotic French Indies, and in the North American wilderness, the story has as its hero one of the most compelling yet horrifying studies of evil in nineteenth-century fiction—James Durie, Master of Ballantrae. The Master is about his infective influence—on his younger, less attractive brother Henry; on Henry’s wife Alison; and on those narrators whom Stevenson so skilfully employs to present their experiences of this charming, ruthless, and evil man.

A very fragile copy of my mothers – faded red cloth, inscribed Gillian R Tanner(1956) and the price? 4/-, that’s four shillings to us who remember the ol’ conundrums. I think this is my favourite RLS; it is so dark.

At that time [1745:] there dwelt a family of four persons in the house of Durrisdeer, near St Brides, on the Solway shore; a chief hold of their race since the Reformation.

The Rising(from Wiki)

The novel is presented as the memoir of one Ephraim Mackellar, steward of the Durrisdeer estate in Scotland. The novel opens in 1745, the year of the Jacobite Rising. When Bonnie Prince Charlie raises the banner of the Stewarts the Durie family–the Laird of Durrisdeer, his older son James Durie (the Master of Ballantrae) and his younger son Henry Durie–decide on a common strategy: one son will join the uprising while the other will join the loyalists. That way, whichever side wins the family’s noble status and estate will be preserved. Logically, the younger son should join the rebels, but the Master insists on being the rebel (a more exciting choice) and contemptuously accuses Henry of trying to usurp his place, comparing him to Jacob. The two sons agree to toss a coin to determine who goes. The Master wins and departs to join the Rising, while Henry remains in support of King George II.

Ailean Breic Stuibhairt was an 18th-century soldier and Scottish Jacobite resistance figure. He was the centre of a murder case that inspired novels by Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Notorious as the Appin Murderer.

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

The Winship Family by Michael J. McCarthy

 

CreateSpace/AuthorBuzz

Description: From his humble beginnings in 1851, as the son of a native Irish gardener, Seamus Tobin endures a terrible tragedy that leaves him orphaned in early childhood. His fortunes change when he is adopted by his father’s employer, the lord of an ancient Anglo-Irish estate in County Cork and a leading member of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy in Ireland.

As James Winship, the young man lives the life of a privileged aristocrat, as the young master in the Great House and in school at Eton College and Oxford University. But he squanders the opportunities in a series of misjudgments and mishaps. A final chance at redemption is afforded him as a cavalry officer in British India, where he learns to play polo, hunts wild game, befriends the local rajah, and, most dramatically, leads his troops in a series of pitched battles against the Empire’s enemies.

Returning home to Ireland, James Winship becomes involved in the Irish independence movement, which dominated British politics for nearly forty years, working with Charles Stewart Parnell and William Ewart Gladstone.

A duel at Dieppe

Opening:THE FATHER, William Winship, The Eighth Lord Milleston. London April 1850: Lord Milleston’s Choice.

The Carleton Club, one in the morning: Entering his rooms, William Winship felt a little light-headed. Stetching out on the couch, replaying the day in his mind, he thought, What the hell is going on?

Hmm, that was not exactly an attention grabbing start and as it turned out the whole caboodle was dry and lacklustre. A lot was told not shown, and the episodic nature drove me mad. So, not what you could call a bad encounter, yet I have no urge to read the next two books when I have Trinity in the TBR. Two Irish tricolours:

I thought I would get into the swing of things. FutureLearn course: ‘Irish Lives in War and Revolution, Trinity College Dublin’ starts next Monday.

The Physician by Noah Gordon

 

Description: In the 11th century, Rob Cole left poor, disease-ridden London to make his way across the land, hustling, juggling, peddling cures to the sick—and discovering the mystical ways of healing. It was on his travels that he found his own very real gift for healing—a gift that urged him on to become a doctor. So all consuming was his dream, that he made the perilous, unheard-of journey to Persia, to its Arab universities where he would undertake a transformation that would shape his destiny forever.

Not an item for the rigid, pedantic historian as there are anachronisms galore. Black Death, for one glaring instance and, wait for it,… the discovery that fleas were the carriers. Yes this is 11th century. Who cares, ’tis romping fun!

That aside it is a fabulous tale fully worthy of an encounter.

Isfahan

Three and a half genie lamps

Up Into The Singing Mountain by: Richard Llewellyn

This is the sequel to How Green is My Valley and it starts out with young Huw Morgan traveling to Patagonia to release himself from Bron, whom he so desperately wants but cannot live with together as a couple due to valley ethics of not loving a brother’s widow. Promptly upon landing in Argentina he comes face to face with bigotry, cruelty and hypocrisy that he had hoped had been left back in the valleys.It is a view into the lives of Welsh émigrés to Patagonia along the lines of the Swedish émigrés to Minnesota as captured by Moberg but with none of the sparkle; it was hard to keep on with the read. Let’s hope the third installment of the saga will be more enthralling; Down where the Moon is Small is on my TBR pile though it will be a while before I feel brave enough to open the pages.

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace

bookshelves: e-book, shortstory-shortstories-novellas, summer-2014, historical-fiction, love, published-2010, nutty-nuut, italy, debut, newtome-author

Recommended for: Laura, Wanda, Dagny, Karen Legge, Joy, Susanna
Read from March 03 to August 05, 2014

 

Description: An iridescent jewel of a novel that proves love is the mother of invention
In the early 1800s, a young Italian contessa, Carolina Fantoni, realizes she is going blind shortly before she marries the town’s most sought-after bachelor. Her parents don’t believe her, nor does her fiancé. The only one who understands is the eccentric local inventor and her longtime companion, Turri.

When her eyesight dims forever, Carolina can no longer see her beloved lake or the rich hues of her own dresses. But as darkness erases her world, she discovers one place she can still see-in her dreams. Carolina creates a vivid dreaming life, in which she can not only see, but also fly, exploring lands she had never known.

Desperate to communicate with Carolina, Turri invents a peculiar machine for her: the world’s first typewriter. His gift ignites a passionate love affair that will change both of their lives forever.

Dedication:

  for my mother: your trip to Italy

Opening quote:

‘Until morning comes say of the blind bird: His feet are netted with darkness, or he flies His heart’s distance in the darkness of his eyes.’

 — Wendell Berry, “Elegy”

Opening: ON THE DAY Contessa Carolina Fantoni was married, only one other living person knew that she was going blind, and he was not her groom.
This was not because she had failed to warn them.
“I am going blind,” she had blurted to her mother, in the welcome dimness of the family coach, her eyes still bright with tears from the searing winter sun. By this time, her peripheral vision was already gone. Carolina could feel her mother take her hand, but she had to turn to see her face. When she did, her mother kissed her, her own eyes full of pity.
“I have been in love, too,” she said, and looked away.

A tale as pure as the driven snow, and do you know what is even better? – The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is a fictionalised account of a real breakthrough in the printed word. From A Brief History of Typewriters:

‘But the first typewriter proven to have worked was built by the Italian Pellegrino Turri in 1808 for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano; unfortunately, we do not know what the machine looked like, but we do have specimens of letters written by the Countess on it. (For details, see Michael Adler’s excellent 1973 book The Writing Machine. Carey Wallace’s 2010 novel The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is based on the relationship between the Countess and Turri.)’

Loc 24/129: ‘The summer that Turri began to visit her lake, when she was sixteen, Carolina had no reason to believe that she was a favorite with Pietro. But she had several well-worn bits of hope.’

Charmingly envisaged without playing to heavy romantic conjecture, this is a lovely short read. Three prototype typewriters that aid the blind.

The Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler

 

Description: Two small children are playing a game called ‘Witch-Hunter’. They place a curse on a young woman taking lunch in a church courtyard and wait for her to die. An hour later the woman is indeed found dead inside St Bride’s Church – a building that no-one else has entered. Unfortunately Bryant & May are refused the case. Instead, there are hired by their greatest enemy to find out why his wife has suddenly started behaving strangely. She’s become an embarrassment to him at government dinners, and he is convinced that someone is trying to drive her insane. She has even taken to covering the mirrors in her apartment, and believes herself to be the victim of witchcraft. Then a society photographer is stabbed to death in a nearby park and suddenly a link emerges between the two cases. And so begins an investigation that will test the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit to their limits, setting Arthur Bryant off on a trail that leads to Bedlam and Bletchley Park, and into the world of madness, codes and the secret of London’s strangest relic.

The Rake Taking Possession of the Estate by Hogarth

A madcap romp through some of the most interesting snippets of London’s history. Add in a Twist of MPs’ Wives (collective noun), a shaken-not-stirred Bethlehem variant, swirl in a whole bunch of code, and top off with three sherbet lemons, a fourth half sucked. What have you got? A rollicking good, solid Bryant and May insert.

3* – Full Dark House (2003)
4* – The Water Room (2004)
4* – Seventy-Seven Clocks (2005)
3* – Ten Second Staircase (2006)
3.5* – White Corridor (2007)
3.5* – The Victoria Vanishes (2008)
3* – Bryant and May on the Loose (2009)
4* – Off the Rails (2010)
3.5* – Bryant and May and the Memory of Blood (2011)
3.5* – The Invisible Code (2012)