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

Power Play

Power Play by Tony Kent is a very readable thriller.

An aircraft is blown up halfway across the Atlantic, one of the passengers is the leading candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election. The baggage handler, a Syrian refugee, who placed the bomb confesses but rapidly questions arise as to whether he is a terrorist or a stooge.

It soon becomes evident that forces close to the current President are trying to shut down the legal team defending the baggage handler and the intelligence agency that starts to investigate.

This a fast paced but really rather preposterous page turner. At the end my reaction was – “really?”. I can imagine this being script fodder for the production machines of Amazon or Netflix but as a read it leaves quite a bit to be desired.

2.5/5

Hitler’s Secret

Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements is a “what if?” spy thriller set in 1941.

Martin Bormann is desperately trying to locate and kill Hitler’s illegitimate daughter before Hitler and the rest of Germany learn about her existence. Tom Wilde an American academic based in Cambridge is recruited by British intelligence services and their US counterparts to get into Germany, find the child and get her to safety. Of course things aren’t as simple as they appeared, who are Tom’s allies and helpers in Germany? Why are they helping?

This tale of intrigue amongst the different factions of the German leadership, competition between the British and the US has plenty of twists and turns and is quite easy to read but overall it is both unbelievable and predictable. Might make a good film script for the streaming factories.

2.5/5

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

To Kill the President

To Kill the President by Sam Bourne (Jonathan Freedland) is an incredibly timely and prescient novel.

There is no mention of the current US President but his persona runs through this novel,  you will recognise the Bannon, Priebus and Ivanka characters as well. This is crazy, scary fiction made more so by the fact that it is so believable in current circumstances.

The plot starts with a late night panic as the President endeavours to launch a nuclear strike against North Korea, well that could never happen in real life or could it?

You can’t put this down, it’s perfect holiday reading. It’s even more delicious if you have been reading Freedland’s columns for the Guardian over the last year

4/5