The House of Lamentations

The House of Lamentations is the 5th in Shona Maclean’s much praised Seeker series.

It’s 1658, Damian Seeker is living under cover in Bruges keeping tabs on the royalist followers of the exiled King Charles who are scheming to restore Charles to the thrown. Meanwhile in London the Protector, Cromwell, is in the last days of his life and all around him are preparing for a power shift and a new leader.

The royalists have discovered that there is a spy within their midst they have no idea who it is and send their own spy to spy on Seeker’s spy. Complicated? Yes but Maclean weaves a complex plot around these characters while providing a fascinating and detailed understanding of life in 17th century Bruges and the politics of England and Europe.

The House of Lamentations is historical fiction at it’s very best. The publisher says this is the last in the series. I hope not!

4.5/5

The Sin Eater

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is very definitely different. Set in a version of Elizabethan England that has dystopian hints of the Handmaid’s Tale, the story is told by May Owens, who is the Sin Eater.

Sin Eaters hear the sins of others and then eat foods associated with each different sin, they carry those sins with them to the grave and relieve the sinner of the fear of dying and being cast into some form of hell with Eve rather than going to their Maker. It is a cruel world where the burden of being the city’s Sin Eater and a social outcast is imposed on women by the mail judges as a way of exercising power and revenge.

May discovers a plot to kill the Queen, a mystery about her own parentage and eventually realises her own agency and independence.

After a slightly slow start The Sin Eater is a compelling read well worth persevering with. I think this is Campisi’s first novel, I hope she writes more.

4/5

Elementary

When I was in my early teens I devoured every bit of the Sherlock Holmes opus, all 4 novels and the 5 collections of short stories. In fact I think I read most of them twice! Since then I have read a few attempts to extend the series, some have worked quite well (e.g. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz) and some have fallen short.

Elementary by William Todd comprises “4 mysteries from the case files of Sherlock Holmes” which Dr Watson had not published. It didn’t work for me, it felt formulaic and somewhat predictable. To be honest I couldn’t bring myself to read all 4 of the stories, 2 were more than enough!

Unless you have read and remember all of the original Conan Doyle stories you might do better to go back to the originals and even if you do remember them I would still rather read the originals again than these wooden homages.

Death in Delft

Death in Delft by Martin Brack is the first in a new series. Set, not surprisingly in Delft in 1671 the plot is based around 3 young girls who have been abducted, one turns up dead and our hero Master Mercurius a protestant protest who is also a secret catholic, is called on by the mayor to try to solve the murder and find the two remaining girls before they are killed.

As a crime novel this might be quite standard fare though well executed, what makes this more interesting is the rich imagery of 17th century Delft, the currents of repressed religion post reformation and the insertion of the painter Johannes Vermeer and the scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek who discovered protozoa into the plot. The novel is in the form of a journal by Mercurius and has a dry humour running through his dialogue with the reader.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this, I’ll give the next one a go.

4/5

The Last Hours

I used to be a big fan of Minette Walters, eagerly devouring each of her chilling psycho thrilled. But that was a good while ago and I haven’t read her for ages, with more edgy American and Scandi authors replacing her.

The Last Hours breaks with Walters past work, it is a historical novel set in the time of the Black Death. Lady Anne is the compassionate and strong willed mistress of the Devilish (yes really!) estate which is quarantined to protect against the plague after its brutal master has succumbed to the disease. The Last Hours combines the evolving relationship between Lady Anne and her mysterious steward Thaddeus with a vivid description of the spread of the plague and the wasteland surrounding the estate.

It is quite readable but not outstanding, the plot meanders in a somewhat predictable way to a climax which is then snatched away with a “to be continued”. I am not sure that I will bother to follow this through to conclusion.

3/5

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is a remarkable book, it tells the story of Pino Lella’s teenage years at the end of the war, based upon a series of interviews that Sullivan had with Lella towards the end of his life.

Lella’s war starts with him acting as a mountain guide/courier helping jews to escape from occupied Italy into Switzerland. He is “conscripted” into the German army by his family as a way of keeping him out of the from line and works as a driver and translator for one of the commanders of the 3rd Reich in Italy, this privileged position allows him to spy for the partisans.

As the war draws to a close and German forces are retreating the story climaxes in the chaos of the lawless days of retribution.

If ever a novel illustrates that fact can be stranger and more exciting than fiction, this is it. From early on it is captivating, terrifying and thrilling.

4.5/5