Wednesday, the 20th of May–time once again for Shelf Control! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!
Today my pick is a historical mystery, The Hangman’s Daughter (2008) by Oliver Pötzsch. This is the first of a series of eight books, and was published in German in 2008 and translated into English in 2010 by Lee Chadeayne and Sabine Maric. What I have on my TBR is the kindle edition of the book.
The story is set in 1659 in Germany after the end of the Thirty-Years War. After a drowning and a gruesomely injured boy, fingers are pointed at a midwife Martha Stechlin, accusing her of witchcraft. On the other side, we have Magdalena, the daughter of Jakob Kuisl, a hangman, but one with unusual wisdom and empathy. They live outside the village walls. Magdalena is destined to be married to the son of another hangman but another young man, the son of the town’s physician, is in love with her. Kuisl, Magdalena’s father is entrusted with the job of extracting a confession from Martha Stechlin. Magdalena, her father, and her suitor (he physician’s son) believe Martha to be innocent and attempt solve the mystery, while another orphan is found dead.
The author: Oliver Pötzsch is a German author and filmmaker, and author of among other books, The Hangman’s Daughter series. He studied journalism in Munich and has worked in radio and television. He has also studied his own family history–he is the descendant of a famous line of executioners in Schongau. According to wikipedia, he was one of the first writers to achieve bestselling status from the publication of e-books.
Mysteries and historical fiction are among my favourites genres, and obviously I also enjoy combinations of the two like the Brother Cadfael mysteries, or the Matthew Shardlake ones. So I think, this should be one I would enjoy as well–the historical setting, mysterious deaths, witchcraft–well perhaps there are some gruesome elements which I may not like that much, but if the story is engrossing, and the mystery complicated, I know I will like it, even if, as reviewers say, the pacing is a little slow.
Have you read this one or any others in this series? Which ones and how did you find them? Any other historical mysteries in other languages that you’ve enjoyed? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!
Book image from Goodreads as always, description (here), author image and information from Goodreads (here) and wikipedia (here)
Wednesday, the 6th of May–time once again for Shelf Control! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!
Today my pick isn’t a book per se, but two short stories by Robert Van Gulick which I found free on kindle–Murder in Ancient China. The stories feature Judge Dee, imperial magistrate, inquisitor and public avenger. These stories are part of a series of full-length mysteries by the author featuring the same character. Judge Dee or Detective Dee as he is known in the movie versions is based on a historical character Di Renjie, an official who served in the Tang and Zhou dynasties, serving twice as chancellor.
Robert Van Gulik, Dutch diplomat, came across an eighteenth century Chinese detective novel Dee Gong An which he translated into English. After this, he began creating his own stories on the same lines with the same character, which were published as a series; the first of these was The Chinese Maze Murders published in 1950. The original tale dealt with Judge Dee solving three cases simultaneously, and without any element of the supernatural.
In this set of stories, Judge Dee finds himself solving in the first the case of an elderly poet murdered by moonlight in his garden pavilion, and in the second a mystery on the eve of Chinese New Year.
I”d heard about the Detective Dee/Judge Dee stories and was interested to explore them especially because of the setting in ancient China. The historical Judge Dee lived between 630 and 700. Mysteries are of course one of my favourite genres, and I thought this offering on Kindle would be a good place to give these a try.
Do you like historical mystery series? Which are some of of your favourites? Have you read any of the Judge Dee stories? Which ones and what did you think of them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!
Info on the book and the cover image are from Goodreads (here), the real life Judge Dee (and image) on Wikipedia (here) and Van Gulik also on Wikipedia (here).
Wednesday, the 15th of April–time for Shelf Control! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!
This week, my pick is historical fiction, another of my favourite genres–Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir. First published in 2007, this is Weir’s debut novel. This is the story of the nine-days queen, Lady Jane Grey.
A great-granddaughter of Henry VII, and first cousin once removed of Edward VI, she found herself between a queen awaiting coronation and deposed monarch within days. Born in turbulent times, she was the child of a scheming father and ruthless mother for whom she is just a pawn (reminding me a little of Katherine Howard here). And she is caught amidst the struggle for the throne when Edward VI, Henry VIIIth’s successor dies prematurely. She was honest. intelligent, and reputed to be one of the most learned women of her day, with a strength of character that enabled her to weather the storm she found herself caught in. And while she had no ambitions to rule, she was forced to accept the crown, and ended up paying with her life.
Having read (and enjoyed) Alison Weir’s non-fiction book The Six Wives of Henry VIII before (review here), I was interested in picking up some fiction by her as well. Then, a couple of years ago, I came across My Lady Jane, a comic (?)/alternative retelling of Jane Grey’s tale, which I wanted to read but decided also that I wanted to know a little of Jane Grey’s real story (with which I am unfamiliar) before I did that. So, picking up this book made a lot of sense, and I am looking forward to reading it. I only found out while writing this post that this was her debut, so it will certainly be a good place to start!
Have you read this one? Or any other/s of Alison Weir’s fiction? Which ones and how did you like them? Also if you’ve read My Lady Jane, let me know how you liked that! Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations.
Cover image: goodreads
Book/Lady Jane description: Goodreads (here) and Wikipedia (here)
Once again, it’s been a while since I did a #MurderousMondays post, but I have been reading a few mysteries lately, so I think I will have some of these in the coming weeks as well. #MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them with this feature too! Today of course, I’m reviewing a historical mystery!
This is the fourth in the Angela Marchmont mystery series, set in 1920s England, which I’ve been quite enjoying reading. In this one Angela goes down to Kent, to visit friends at Romney Marsh. But on the way there, when her driver William lands them in a ditch because of very thick fog, they end up stumbling upon the disfigured body of a young woman, and so begins another mystery. (Once again Angela doesn’t really wish to be involved, but ends up investigating all the same.) There is no clue to who the mystery woman might be (no handbag or other identifiers are found, nor has anyone been reported missing) or what she might have been doing there. However, it seems that there is more to the murder than meets the eye, since Scotland Yard is called in and with it Inspector Jameson, Angela’s old acquaintance. The mystery takes us into the jazz clubs of London, particularly a club run by Mrs Chang and her son, that thrives on not being all above board, and the country side, with a stately home, as well as an odd mix of guests and an eccentric artist, at the Harrisons’ where Angela is staying. Among the guests is Freddy Pilkington-Soames, a somewhat indolent young man, whose mother has got him a job as a reporter, but who Angela finds is much more perspicacious than it first seems. He too joins in the investigations (The author has a separate mystery series featuring this character). Alongside, Freddy’s mother is intent on getting Angela to give her an interview about her ‘adventurous’ life, while her hostess, Margurite Harrison, an artist, is preparing to have an exhibition of her own and her protégé’s works in the village. At the stately home, Blakeney Park, are Lady Alice, and her son Gil, soon to be married to Lucy Syms who doesn’t quite get along with her mother-in-law to be. Between the murder investigations and local happenings, there is plenty going on in this one.
Like the earlier books in the series, I found this to be a quick and enjoyable read. The book is certainly ‘inspired’ by Agatha Christie, specifically A Body in the Library, in many of its aspects like the way in which the body was found (condition I mean—it isn’t found in a library), also who the victim turned out to be and such, though the mystery itself was different from that one. Some of the other characters too, reminded me of those from another Agatha Christie book. Freddy Pilkington-Soames I thought was a fun character to be introduced to—He very much reminded me of Freddie Threepwood from the Blandings books, but of course a version of Freddie with brains. In fact, his set, if one could call it that, and the antics they get up to were very much like characters out of Wodehouse. It would be fun to see what Freddy Pilkington-Soames gets up to in his own series. The puzzle, while not too complex or full of twists (there are some surprises of course) was enjoyable as well. Though (as in an another book in this series) I did manage to more or less guess whodunit, this was still a very pleasant read. Three and a half stars!
p.s.: I had featured this book in a Shelf Control post earlier (find that here)
Wednesday the 7th of August, and time once again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is about celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks.
This month, I haven’t really picked a reading theme so it’s just going to be random picks from my shelves that I plan to read during the month. Likewise, Shelf Control too will have random picks that are waiting to be read on my TBR pile. This week’s pick is one such, a work of historical fiction, Pompeii by Robert Harris.
Set in the days before the eruption of Veruvius in AD 79, Pompeii takes us to the Mediterranean coast where rich Roman citizens are relaxing and enjoying themselves in their luxurious villas while the navy lies anchored peacefully. Marcus Attilius Primus, a young engineer, has taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, one of the most complex aqueduct systems in the Roman world, and one that supplies nine towns and a quarter of a million people. But he finds he has much to contend with as springs are failing for the first time in generations and his predecessor has disappeared. To repair the aqueduct, Attilius must travel to Pompeii, on the slopes of Vesuvius, where he suspects the fault to lie. But there he finds both natural and man-made dangers awaiting him.
I’ve read one other book by the author, Enigma set during World War II, and more specifically code breaking at Bletchley Park, which I enjoyed very much as it was an interesting combination of historical detail and suspense–there was a mystery and murder angle to it. Having enjoyed that one, I was looking forward to exploring other books by the author and when I spotted this one (online, second-hand), I picked it up. Life in ancient Rome is something that interests me quite a bit and I enjoy books in this setting (Rosemary Sutcliff’s books for instance, though those were in Roman England; in fact I also took a course on FutureLearn about Hadrian’s wall which explored life in Roman England). Going by my experience reading Enigma, I expect this too to combine historical events and an exciting tale, with perhaps some element of suspense.
Have you read this book or any others by Harris? Which ones and how did you find them? Any other books or series in Ancient Rome that you recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts!
All the info, as always in from wikipedia (here), and Goodreads (here).
Wednesday the 22nd of May, and Shelf Control time again. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. Each week, simply pick up a book from your TBR, and write a post about it. Don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do share your links in the comments with me as well as I’d love to check out your picks.
This month, I’ve been reading (or at least am attempting to read) the 2018 books on my TBR pile and so for Shelf Control have been featuring other recent publications waiting to be read on my shelves. This week’s pick is The Glory of Patan by K.M. Munshi (translated by Rita and Abhijit Kothari). The book is and isn’t a recent publication. The book was originally published in Gujarati in the 1910s, but this translation came out in 2017.
What it’s all about: This is the first of the ‘Patan Trilogy’ ; in the book, the Kingdom of Patan is facing an uncertain future. The king, Karnadev is on his deathbed while his heir, Jayadev is much too young to take the throne. Warlords are scheming and merchants attempting to wrest power. In this atmosphere, it falls to the Queen Minaldevi, and chief minister Munjal Mehta to maintain order, and ensure that the throne is secure for Jayadev to take over. Thus begins an exciting and fast-paced tale of the exploits of the Chalukya dynasty in Gujarat.
The Author: Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi (1887-1971) was an activist, politician, educationist, and writer from Gujarat. He has written many novels, dramas, and also non fiction in Gujarati, Hindi, and English. I have mentioned this in another post but my first acquaintance with Munshi was in college classes, as when studying the Constituent Assembly and its debates in any context, Munshi is often quoted, and it was only much later that I realised that the novelist and politician were the same. The translators Rita and Abhijit Kothari are researchers and teachers based in Gandhinagar/Ahmedabad.
Last year I happened to read one of his books, Prithvi Vallabh (review here), also a work of historical fiction based on a twelfth-century poem, which I enjoyed reading, mostly because of its many unconventional elements. After reading that I wanted to explore more of his works and someone on Goodreads recommended this trilogy, so when I found this one on sale, I picked it up last year (I think it was in October). I have a hardback edition published by Penguin/Viking.
Have you read any books by this author? Which ones and how did you like them? Looking forward to reading your thoughts!
All the info about the book is from the blurb on the book itself, while about Munshi is from wikipedia (here).
My thanks to the author, and Penguin RandomHouse India for a review
copy of this book.
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (reign 1325–1351) was the second ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty, which ruled over a large part of the country described as the Delhi Sultanate, ruled over by five different dynasties, the Mamluks, Khaljis, and Tughlaqs among them.
This book opens in a period of turmoil around the Delhi/Dilli throne when after the demise of Alauddin Khalji, his son Mubarak Shah has proved to be a disappointment, wasting his opportunity on the throne on his own pleasures and debauchery with the result that he has been murdered and the throne taken over by Nasiruddin Khusrau Shah, one of Khalji’s generals. In his capital, young Jauna Khan, son of Ghazi Malik, is a hostage of sorts, though officially Master of the Horse. But he is courageous and manages to make his escape and join his father, who goes on to found the Tughlaq dynasty as Ghiasuddin Tughlaq. His father’s death on return from one of his campaigns sees Jauna ascend the throne as Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, but the circumstances of the death mean that Muhammad will always be suspected of patricide. As the Sultan, Muhammad was a visionary, attempting a series of innovations from shifting his capital, to introducing currency—minting coins of base metals with higher value—and also had other radical ideas including pertaining faith and tolerance which were ahead of his time and did not sit well with his officials or people, despite his own good intentions. Unfortunately for him, most of his schemes and a few of his campaigns failed, and he is remembered as cruel or mad rather than for his ideas. In telling his story, the author explores all of these facets of his personality and of his life, as he goes from being Prince Jauna to Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq to the Mad Monarch amidst a few (his mother and sister) who loved and genuinely cared for him to others like his officials who didn’t really seem to understand him, and still others who were ever ready to betray.
This is the third book of
historical fiction I’ve read by the author and it was my favourite so far. I
really liked how she’s presented Muhammad (from whose point of view the story
is told) as a person—a powerful monarch, yes, but not as someone good or bad or
classifiable into clear cut categories, but rather an interesting but much
misunderstood person, with ideas much ahead of his time, whether it be his
innovations or his interest in interacting with those from other parts of the
world. He is cruel certainly and the tortures he perpetrated on those who
crossed him were horrifying but I felt it was no less so than other
monarchs—the Mughals after him or Henry the VIII for that matter (which is not
to say that those actions were not despicable but just that they weren’t
extraordinarily so). (Incidentally, while in some of the author’s earlier
books, I found what I called the ‘gory bits’ a bit much for me, here while they
were still disturbing to read (as they should be), I didn’t feel that they were
out of place where they were included.) Also he acts on his whims at times which
again was characteristic of so many monarchs (and people generally). But from the
overall portrait that this book paints, the feeling one comes away with is some
level of sympathy for a man who certainly deserved better than he got.
Of the themes the author explores in the book, the one that stands
out throughout is the need for tolerance for difference, whether it be of faith
or other aspects—this is something that is relevant even in the current context
and yet a lesson that people refuse to learn.
I enjoyed the author’s writing and descriptions, especially of
celebratory occasions like his sister Khuda’s wedding—the vivid pictures she
paints make one feel like one is there viewing the ceremonies and celebrations
oneself. In some places, though, I felt some word choices were a touch modern
and didn’t quite fit the historical context/atmosphere in the book. But while parts
of the story and Muhammad’s personality might be as the author imagined them,
the research that has gone into the book shows.
Another small complaint I had with the book was something I felt with her earlier historical book, Prithviraj Chauhan as well—in a work of historical fiction, especially when a monarch and his kingdom is the centre of discussion, including a map/s of the Sultanate as it was in the period or periods being written of would have made the reading experience better as one could have immediately referred to it to see what places or areas were being spoken of. The second element which would also have been helpful was a list of characters mentioned or even a family tree/s. The first chapter of the book where the author describes the situation of the Delhi throne after Khalji’s death, numerous characters are mentioned, not all of whom one was familiar with and I found it a little confusing to keep who was who straight in my mind. I realise that many of these (in fact, most) don’t really come up again in the story, but still a cast of characters describing people in the different dynasties would have helped keep things clearer.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book which presented many facets of a very interesting historical personality. A solid 4 stars.
My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere books for a review copy of this
The Catherine Howard Conspiracy is the first in a trilogy, the Marquess House trilogy, and is a mystery/thriller that unfolds in two parallel timelines. After a brief prologue setting out some events in 1542 Pembrokeshire, we come to the present day where historian–archaeologist, Dr Perdita Rivers working at an undersea site where a sunken ship, possibly from the Armada, has been found is told that her estranged grandmother, an eminent historian Mary Fitzroy has died, and that her and her twin sister, Piper are left heirs to her estate. She soon discovers that her estate is not only vast including the imposing Marquess House, but also includes treasures in the form of the books and documents that Marquess House is home to including its own legacy and the results of her grandmother’s research. As she begins to look into this, she begins to uncover the secrets that Marquess House hides (which connect to Catherine Howard) as well as much that has been hidden in her and Piper’s life. In this, she is helped by her grandmother’s lawyer and friend, Alistair Mackensie and his family, particularly, his youngest son, Kit. Alongside, back in the sixteenth century, we follow Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth queen, from the time she enters the palace as maid-in-waiting to Anne of Cleeves, catches Henry’s eye, and becomes his queen. But as queen she is caught between the ageing and increasing violent Henry, who acts entirely on his whim, and her own family the Howards, particularly the Duke of Norfolk who wants his own ambitions for the Howard family realised through her. Having seen the fate that befell her cousin Anne Boleyn, Catherine must live in fear nearly every step of the way, and can rely only on a few to protect her.
Some aspects of the book when it begins, and the comparisons with Dan Brown, kind of gave me a clue as to the direction in which the plot was headed, so when I started, my enthusiasm was kind of dampened, but as I read on and the two storylines unfolded with the present-day characters uncovering various secrets, I began to get absorbed in the plot and want to keep reading on to see what they would find next, and how they would get to the answer to the mystery. I also enjoyed the historical part of the story as it played out (though there were certain scenes, describing Henry’s brutality and depravations which were a bit too gruesome for my liking—may be a little less detail would have worked better for me here). The author has taken historical events and characters and given them her own interpretation. So, many of the characters, Catherine Howard, Lady Rochford, and Norfolk, in particular, have different personalities than one is (or at least I was) used to from other fiction (even, non-fiction) set in the era. How much of this interpretation is true (the conspiracy is fiction of course, as the author says), I can’t tell but it was certainly an interesting spin on events, and told in a fast paced, and exciting manner. The main character, Dr Perdita Rivers, I didn’t really take to so much, in the sense that I felt her a little too naïve in many situations; also I felt even when the answer to some things seemed to stare her in the face, she took a page or two longer to get to it. While this book solves part of the mystery, there is a further thread to explore which is probably where the next one will pick up, and I am excited to see how that turns out. An exciting read which I would have enjoyed far more if the secrets unveiled would have really taken me by surprise.
This is the first in a mystery series featuring Perveen Mistry, the first female lawyer in Bombay (based on the real firsts, Camelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam) set in the 1920s. Perveen is 23, has read law at Oxford, and is employed in her father’s firm as no one else would employ her. She isn’t a member of the Bar since this is still not permitted at that point. Her father’s firm is appointed to execute the will of one Omar Farid, a wealthy mill-owner who was their client. On his death, he has left behind three widows, all of whom are purdahnashin, that is they live in seclusion with no contact with men from outside their family. As a woman lawyer, Perveen is the only one who can speak to them, find out what their wishes are regarding their money, and communicate to them what the law is, and how it can help them. But her efforts aren’t appreciated by all, especially the guardian of the estate, who is clearly not acting fairly, and this spells trouble for Perveen (since he thinks he can intimidate a ‘mere woman’. But when a murder takes place and she continues to investigate, Perveen finds her own life also in danger. Alongside, a second thread of the story takes place taking us into Perveen’s past including the struggles she faced as the only female student in the Government Law College in Bombay, and the decisions in her personal life that had unforeseen consequences that was affect her life in the long run.
This was such an enjoyable read for me. I thought the author captured the whole atmosphere of 1920s Bombay and life in the Parsi community as it would have been back then really well. It felt really authentic, especially some of the customs, mannerisms and language. I also really liked Perveen as a character. She is an intelligent young woman, but also very human—she takes decisions that aren’t always the right ones as all of us do, and also acts impetuously at times. But still she is a likeable character, and a strong one considering all she has borne in her past, as well as feisty in how she deals with the dangers that she faces when investigating the case at hand. She is also confident in the way she conducts herself, not allowing much to intimidate her. I also loved that her family, especially her parents are so supportive of her, are with her every step of the way and taking care even when she is unaware that they are. The mystery was interesting, and also brought forth how life would have been for women in the position that the widows were in—unable to operate in the real world, unable to be safe when their husband was no longer with them, and vulnerable to be taken advantage of by even those who were left to care for them (servants pilfering money and such). I really loved this book and am looking forward to the second in the series which comes out sometime in May.
The final Wednesday of the month, and time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR pile. To participate, simply pick one of the books from your TBR and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page and also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to read about your choices.
February being my month for reading historical mysteries, I have also been featuring historical mysteries in Shelf Control all this month (my previous posts are here, here, and here). This time, my pick is a book from a series that I’m really enjoying reading, Revelation by C.J. Sansom.
The Series: The Matthew Shardlake series is set in Tudor England, a period about which I enjoy reading very much, and features Matthew Shardlake a lawyer who is a protege of sorts of Thomas Cromwell. When the series opens, Shardlake is charged by Cromwell with investigating a murder at a monastery in Scarnsea, amidst the unrest that the dissolution of monasteries by Henry the VIII has brought on. His service with Cromwell continues into the second book, but even after Cromwell’s death, he continues to investigate fairly complicated cases. The series has seven books so far, the first six in Henry VIII’s reign, while book 7 sees Shardlake in the service of Elizabeth, while Edward VI is on the throne.
The Book: It is Spring 1943 and Henry VIII is wooing Catherine Parr, while the protestant faction at court watches with bated breath as Lady Catherine is known for her reformist tendencies. Alongside, a teenage boy, a religious fanatic is placed in Bedlam. When an old friend of Matthew Shardlake is murdered, he finds himself led to both these threads, and also to the book of Revelation. There are a series of murders, witchcraft and possession to contend with on the way, in this once again complex mystery or should I say mysteries. Revelation is the fourth book in the series.
The Author: C.J Sansom is a Scottish-born writer of historical novels, who holds a BA and PhD in history. After holding different jobs, he retrained as a solicitor, and practiced for a while before taking to writing full time. Besides the seven Shardlake novels, he has also written two other historical novels, one set in 1940 Spain in the aftermath of the civil war, and one an alternative history in Britain after World War II.
I’ve loved what I’ve read of this series so far, and am really looking forward to get to this one!
Have you read this one or any other books in this series? What did you think of them? Which is your favourite in the series. Looking forward to reading your thoughts!