Lion by Conn Iggulden – the First in The Golden Age series

Penguin| 26 May 2022| 416 pages| Review Copy| 4*

Ancient Greece, 5th century BC

The age of myths and legends has given way to the world of men. In the front rank stands Pericles, Lion of Athens.
Behind Pericles lies the greatest city of the ancient world. Before him, on land and at sea, stands the merciless Persian army. Both sides are spoiling for war.

Though still a young man, Pericles knows one thing: to fight a war you must first win the peace

It’s time for a hero to rise.

For his enemies to tremble.

And for Athens, a city of wisdom and warriors, to shine with glory . . .

I was so pleased when I started reading Lion as I realised straight away I was going to enjoy it. It’s been a long time since I read anything set in Ancient Greece, so a lot was new to me, including the characters as well as the historical setting. This is the first book in Conn Iggulden’s Golden Age series set in the 5th century BCE. I thoroughly enjoyed it which surprised me as generally speaking I’m not keen on reading battle scenes and the book starts and ends with battles. But I had no problem with following the action of the battles between the Greeks and the Persians, and was able to visualise what was going on without any difficulty. The characters’ names took me a little while to get clear in my mind but I soon got used to them.

The two main characters are both young men, Cimon the older of the two has more authority than Pericles, the younger man. Lion is the story of their early careers. Iggulden covers the capture of Eion under Cimon’s leadership of the Delian League, an alliance of Greek states, and of Scyros where Cimon found the bones of Theseus and returned them to Athens. He then captured Cyprus and destroyed a Persian fleet on the Eurymedon River. Below the age of thirty little is known of Pericles’ life, but the likelihood is that he was with Cimon for these events.

The middle section of Lion forms an interlude between the battles and is about Pericles’ marriage to Thetis, and his involvement in the theatre in Athens and the Festival of Dionysus. Pericles was the ‘choregos’ (producer) of Aeschylus’ plays made up of three tragedies and a ‘satyr’ play. I found this part of the book just as fascinating as the battle scenes.

Iggulden adds a useful historical note and recommends reading Pericles: a Biography in Context by Thomas R Martin for more information.

The next book in the Golden Age series is Empire, which will be released on May 25, 2023.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

Penguin| 3 June 2021| 328 pages| Review Copy| 3*

‘TEACHER WANTED AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD . . .’

After the loss of her father, Una sees a chance to escape Reykjavík to tutor two girls in the tiny village of Skálar – population just ten – on Iceland’s storm-battered north coast.

But city life hasn’t prepared her for the unforgiving weather nor inhospitable village life. Worse, the creaky old house where she lives is playing on her already fragile mind when she’s convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.

Then, at midwinter, a young girl is found dead.

And one of the villagers must have blood on their hands . . .

The Girl Who Died is Icelandic noir, a mix of horror and psychological thriller, with a strong sense of place. Skálar is a close-knit community that doesn’t welcome newcomers, keeping its secrets well hidden. The only person who welcomes Una, to the village is Salka, the mother of Edda, one of the two girls Una is to teach. But even her welcome is short lived.

When Una arrived she had the feeling that it was like being a folk tale, an ominous supernatural tale set in a vague shifting world where nothing was solid or real, almost like a ghost town. The feeling grows stronger when she sees a little girl with long, pale hair in the window of Salka’s house – but Salka tells her that Edda was in bed. Later she discovers that the ghost of a young girl who had died fifty years earlier was said to haunt the house.

The supernatural elements of the story and the dark brooding atmosphere add to the mystery, but it is not quite as creepy or chilling as I’d thought it would be, mainly because of the slow plodding pace. Also I’m in two minds about Una as I really didn’t find her a very interesting character. And I began to care less and less about what was happening to her. Overall I found it a bit disappointing, and I found the ending puzzling.

However, the Author’s Note is interesting. Jonasson explains that Skálar is a real place. But it was abandoned in the mid 1950s, so the setting is real, but the buildings and the characters are fictitious. However, he has tried to give an accurate representation of the history of Skálar that describes in the book. He has also used the folk tales in Sigfús Sigfússon’s collections of Icelandic tales and legends.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Ghost Walk by Alanna Knight

The 4th book in Alanna Knight’s Rose McQuinn historical crime fiction series, Ghost Walk is set in 1897 mainly in Eildon, a village in the Scottish Borders.

Three years have passed since Rose McQuinn’s husband, Danny, disappeared in Arizona, whilst working for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. During that time she has become a Lady Investigator and is about to marry her lover, Detective Inspector Jack Macmerry of the Edinburgh Police. But when a nun from the local convent claims to have received a letter from Danny she is anxious to find out if he is still alive. Rose hopes Danny’s older relative, Father McQuinn, a priest living in the village of Eildon in the Scottish Borders will be able to tell her more.

Rose lives in Solomon’s Tower, a (fictional) tower at the foot of Arthur’s Seat, an old volcano in Edinburgh. A mysterious deerhound, Thane lives somewhere on Arthur’s Seat and often accompanies her. There is a deep bond between the two of them and he often seems to read her mind and understand when she is in danger. As the novel begins Rose and Thane go to Eildon, to meet her future in-laws, just before the wedding, which will also give her an opportunity to talk to Father McQuinn. However, before she can ask him about Danny, he dies under mysterious circumstances and Rose becomes convinced that both his death and that of his housekeeper are in fact murders.

But the main focus of this book is not the murder mystery, nor the suspicions about a Fenian plot to assassinate Queen Victoria during the Jubilee celebrations, but the relationships between Rose and Jack, who has to stay in Edinburgh to testify at a trial, and also between Rose and Jack’s parents, particularly his mother who refuses to acknowledge that Rose is a widow. It also highlights the position of women in a country village during that period. I wanted to know more about Thane, particularly his role at the end of the book – how did he escape with his life?

I liked Rose for her determination to discover the truth and her persistence in being a Lady Detective, despite much opposition. There are nine books in the Rose McQuinn series. I’ve read the first one as well as Ghost Walk and hope to read the others to find out more about her.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Allison & Busby (6 Sept. 2012)
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 537 KB
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • My own copy
  • Rating: 3*

The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Pan| February 2011| 289 pages| e-book| 5*

From the Back Cover

Inspector Morse isn’t sure what to make of the truncated body found dumped in the Oxford Canal, but he suspects it may be all that’s left of an elderly Oxford don last seen boarding the London train several days before. Whatever the truth, the inspector knows it won’t be simple — it never is. As he retraces Professor Browne-Smith’s route through a London netherworld of topless bars and fancy bordellos, his forebodings are fulfilled. The evidence mounts; so do the bodies. So Morse downs another pint, unleashes his pit bull instincts, and solves a mystery that defies all logic. 

My thoughts

The Riddle of the Third Mile is Colin Dexter’s 6th book in his Inspector Morse series, first published in 1983. I remember watching the TV adaptation based on this book, The Last Enemy, but, as with most TV adaptations, it has several changes from the original. Like all of Dexter’s books this is a most complicated mystery, one of the ‘puzzle’ types. Dexter, himself, constructed crossword puzzles and made Morse a crossword aficionado. I agree with Sergeant Lewis when he asks Morse: ‘Aren’t you making it all a bit too complicated?‘ (page 145). I enjoyed trying to follow all the clues that Dexter planted in the mystery, although I had little idea about most of it. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The identity of the dismembered and headless corpse could have been that of Morse’s his old classics tutor, Browne-Smith or Browne-Smith’s hated rival, Westerby, or even one of the Gilbert twins who both harboured a grudge against Browne-Smith dating back to the Second World War. Or one of the twins could have been the murderer. Morse eventually works it out, by various means, including considering ‘the most improbable notions, in the sure certainty that by the law of averages some of them stood a more reasonable chance of being near to the truth than others.’ ( page 145) He’s also helped by his intuition, when a passage of scripture springs to his mind about forgiving one’s enemies: ‘ And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain (Matthew 14.1)’ which he checks in a Gideon Bible, and letting his mind ponder this he remembers a sermon he had heard on the ‘Religion of the Second Mile’:

And it was with the forty-watt bulb shedding its feeble light over the Gideon Bible that Morse smiled to himself in unspeakable joy, like one who has travelled on a longer journey still – that third and final mile …

At last he knew the truth. (page 220)

I can’t say I was also enlightened, and so I just had to read on to find out what Morse had managed to deduce.

Along with the mystery details of Morse’s earlier life when he was a student at St John’s College, Oxford are revealed. He had failed the classics degree, known as ‘Greats’, after his love affair with a postgraduate student at St Hilda’s, Wendy Spencer, came to an end. It had had a disastrous effect on his academic work.

… he departed from Oxford, a withdrawn and silent young man, bitterly belittled, yet not completely broken in spirit. It had been his sadly disappointed old father, a month or so before his death, who suggested that his only son might find a niche somewhere in the police force. (page 61)

I’ve now read 9 of the 13 Morse books:

1. Last Bus to Woodstock (1975) – read in October 2020 not reviewed
2. Last Seen Wearing (1976)
3. The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
4. Service of All the Dead (1979)
5. The Dead of Jericho (1981)
6. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
7. The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
8. The Wench Is Dead (1989)
9. The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
10. The Way Through the Woods (1992)
11. The Daughters of Cain (1994)
12. Death Is Now My Neighbour (1996)
13. The Remorseful Day (1999)

Inspector Morse: A Mysterious Profile by Colin Dexter is also available, published as one of the Mysterious Profiles series of 26 books.

Synopsis:

The international-bestselling author answers readers’ questions and discusses the origins of the Oxford inspector with a penchant for classical music.

In 1975, Inspector Morse debuted, working to solve the case of a murdered hitchhiker in Colin Dexter’s Last Bus to Woodstock. The book led to a multimillion-bestselling mystery series and a television show that spawned a spinoff and a prequel. But how did the beloved DCI from Oxford come to be exactly?

In this quick read, Colin Dexter addresses some of the many questions posed to him by his readers. He reveals what motived him to break into crime writing and which authors and novels influenced him. He discusses Morse’s many traits and inner workings, as well as how he got his first Morse novel published. He also shares how he maintains a discipline with writing, how he deals with critics, and what it’s like to transform a series of novels into a television series.

Shelf Control

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration hosted by Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies, of the unread books on our shelves. Lisa says: “Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.”

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

This is my first time doing this. I’ve been looking at my TBRs recently and making lists of ones to read before too long. This book is one of the oldest on my shelves.

I remembered I have a copy of Birthright by Nora Roberts when I read Cath’s post about the books she has been reading and one of them was by Nora Roberts. I bought it in September 2008 along with three other books from the book stall at the Charnock Richard service station on the M6 and it has remained unread on my bookshelves ever since. I’ve read two of the other books I bought and enjoyed them.

Blurb from Goodreads:

When five-thousand-year-old human bones are found at a construction site in the small town of Woodsboro, the news draws archaeologist Callie Dunbrook out of her sabbatical and into a whirlwind of adventure, danger, and romance.

While overseeing the dig, she must try to make sense of a cloud of death and misfortune that hangs over the project-fueling rumors that the site is cursed. And she must cope with the presence of her irritating-but irresistible-ex-husband, Jake. Furthermore, when a stranger claims to know a secret about her privileged Boston childhood, she is forced to question her own past as well.

A rich, thrilling, suspenseful tale, Birthright follows an inspiring heroine, an intriguing hero, and a cast of fascinating characters whose intertwined lives remind us that there is much more going on under the surface than meets the eye. 

Why I bought it:

I liked the sound of it from the blurb – an archaeological dig when five-thousand-year-old human bones are found, a sense of death and misfortune combined with a mystery about the archaeologist Callie Dunbrook’s past. According to the author’s information inside the book Nora Roberts is “indisputably the most celebrated and beloved women’s writer today.” Sorry, but I’d never heard of her before or read any of her more than 100 books. I thought I’d better remedy that.

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments to Lisa’s latest post, or link back from your own post, so Lisa can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

What do you think? Have you read this book? Do you think I’ll enjoy it? Or shouldn’t I bother reading it?

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: A Room with a View by E M Forster

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

This week I’ve started to look at A Room with a View as this is the book I’ll be reading next for the Classics Club Spin. It was first published in 1908, set in Italy and England about a young woman, Florence and was E M Forster’s third book.

The Book Begins in Florence:

‘The Signora had no business to do it, said Miss Bartlett, ‘no business at all. She promised us south rooms with a view close together, instead of which here are north rooms, looking onto a courtyard, and a long way apart. Oh, Lucy!’

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

The well-known world had broken up, and there emerged Florence, a magic city where people thought and did the most extraordinary things. Murder, accusations of murder, a lady clinging to one man and being rude to another – were these the daily incidents of her streets?

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Set in freewheeling Florence, Italy, and sober Surrey, England, E. M. Forster’s beloved third novel follows young Lucy Honeychurch’s journey to self-discovery at a transitional moment in British society. As Lucy is exposed to opportunities previously not afforded to women, her mind – and heart – must open. Before long, she’s in love with an “unsuitable” man and is faced with an impossible choice: follow her heart or be pressured into propriety.

A challenge to persistent Victorian ideals as well as a moving love story, A Room with a View has been celebrated for both its prescient view of women’s independence and its reminder to live an honest, authentic life.

I think I’m going to enjoy this book.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Earth and Heaven by Sue Gee

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

This week I’m featuring Earth and Heaven by Sue Gee. This is one of my TBRs I bought several years ago because I’d read one of her other books, The Hours of the Night, pre-blog, when I just noted that it was ‘good overall’ and ‘could be shorter’. But the blurb about this one interested me.

The Book Begins:

When Walter painted his family at evening, a towering angel stood at the door with folded wings.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

They climbed the stairs to the class and took their places. Walter was working from a bust now. After weeks of limbs and torsos it felt both liberating and strange to spend his time studying a human face, a female face: to measure the proportions of hairline to brow, and brow to cheekbone; to draw the sweet and subtle curve of the lips.

Blurb from the back cover:

In the aftermath of the First World War, the young painter Walter Cox and the wood-engraver Sarah Lewis meet at the Slade, then set up home and a studio together. With their newfound happiness, and the birth of Meredith, then Geoffrey, the grief of war recedes. But children are unpredictable and have their own inner lives: events on a summer afternoon change everything …

Deeply affecting, shot through with a shimmering apprehension of the natural world, Earth and Heaven is about life’s fragility, and the power of love and painting to disturb, renew and reveal us to ourselves.

What do you think? Does it interest you too?

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré 

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

This week I’m featuring one of the books I’ve just started to read – The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré, a Cold War spy thriller, the sequel to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. It’s based in the Far East in the mid 1970s.

The Book Begins:

Afterwards in the dusty little corners where London’s secret servants drink together, there was argument about where the Dolphin case history should really begin.

I like this opening sentence – it focuses attention immediately on the Dolphin case – what was it and where did it begin? I hope all will become clear.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

Only George Smiley, said Roddy Martindale, a fleshy Foreign Office wit, could have got himself appointed captain of a wrecked ship. Only Smiley, he added, could have compounded the pains of that appointment by choosing the same moment to abandon his beautiful, if occasionally errant, wife.

At first or even second glance George Smiley was ill-suited to either part, as Martindale was quick to note. He was tubby and in small ways hopelessly unassertive. A natural shyness made him from time to time pompous and to men of Martindale’s flamboyance his unobtrusiveness acted as a standing reproach.

Surely, unobtrusiveness is just the quality a good spy needs.

Summary

In the second part of John le Carré’s Karla Trilogy, the battle of wits between spymaster George Smiley and his Russian adversary takes on an even more dangerous dimension.

George Smiley, now acting head of the Circus, must rebuild its shattered reputation after one of the biggest betrayals in its history. Using the talents of journalist and occasional spy Jerry Westerby, Smiley launches a risky operation uncovering a Russian money-laundering scheme in the Far East. His aim: revenge on Karla, head of Moscow Centre and the architect of all his troubles.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

4*

All I knew about David Copperfield: The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account) by Charles Dickens is that it is said to be his most autobiographical novel. I think I must have watched a TV serialisation years ago but I remember very little about it. It was first published as a serial in 1849 and 1850, and then as a book in 1850.

It’s a long novel with a multitude of characters, including David’s cruel stepfather, Mr Murdstone, the family housekeeper Peggotty, his school friends Steerforth, who he mistakenly idolises and, my favourite character, Tommy Traddles, who has a heart of gold, and a remarkable upstanding head of hair. Then there’s another favourite character, David’s great aunt Betsey Trotwood, who wages war against marriage and donkeys and her companion, the simple-minded Mr Dick; Mr Micawber, always in debt and in and out of the debtor’s prison, and the odious and nauseating Uriah Heep are both memorable characters.

I was totally immersed in their world, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Victorian England, the living conditions of the poor contrasting with the decadent wealth of the rich, and the dramatic intensity of episodes such as the terrible storm at sea off Yarmouth. There’s drama, comedy and tragedy, melodrama and pathos as the story follows David’s life from his birth to his adulthood, covering his childhood, early schooldays, his time as a young boy working in a factory, then as a student in Canterbury where he lodged with the lawyer Mr Wickfield and his daughter, Agnes.

Betsey later established him in London where he worked in the Doctor’s Commons, under the tutelage of Mr Spenlow, whose daughter, the beautiful, frivolous and to my eyes, the utterly pathetic Dora totally captivated him. The sections of the book involving Dora are rather too sentimental for my liking. Then there’s Pegotty’s family – her brother Daniel, a fisherman, their nephew Ham and niece, Little Em’ly who is David’s childhood friend and sweetheart. They live in a converted boat on the beach at Yarmouth. And not forgetting Barkis, who marries Pegotty, after telling David to tell her, ‘Barkis is willing‘. Their sections of the book are the ones I enjoyed the most. I could go on and on, not forgetting David himself as describes the misfortunes and obstacles he met and the friends he makes.

I enjoyed reading David Copperfield, which was Dickens’ own personal favourite of all his novels, but it is not mine – it’s a bit too long for me. I think my favourite is Bleak House, which I read after seeing the TV adaptation in 2005 with Anna Maxwell Martin, Gillian Anderson, Denis Lawson, and Charles Dance. Maybe I’ll read it again to see what I think of it now. These days I prefer shorter books and Bleak House, like David Copperfield is long with many characters and sub-plots.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

This week I’m featuring one of the books I’m currently reading – Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton, a Golden Age murder mystery. Miles Burton is one of the pen names of Cecil John Street, who also wrote under the names John Rhode and Cecil Waye. He was a prolific author who produced four detective novels a year for thirty-seven years!

The Book Begins:

The 5.0 pm train from Cannon Street runs fast as far as Stourford, where it is due at 6.07. On Thursday, November 14th, it was, as usual, fairly full, but not uncomfortably so.

A fairly dull opening paragraph to a very complicated murder mystery that is keeping me turning the pages as fast as I can and at the same time trying to take in all the detail.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

The alternative to suicide can only be murder. I should naturally like to know who may be said to benefit by Sir Wilfred’s death?

Summary:

On a dark November evening, Sir Wilfred Saxonby is travelling alone in the 5 o’clock train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train slows and stops inside a tunnel; and by the time it emerges again minutes later, Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet.

Suicide seems to be the answer, even though no motive can be found. Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard thinks again when learns that a mysterious red light in the tunnel caused the train to slow down.

Finding himself stumped by the puzzle, Arnold consults his friend Desmond Merrion, a wealthy amateur expert in criminology. Merrion quickly comes up with an ‘essential brainwave’ and helps to establish how Sir Wilfred met his end, but although it seems that the dead man fell victim to a complex conspiracy, the investigators are puzzled about the conspirators’ motives as well as their identities. Can there be a connection with Sir Wilfred’s seemingly troubled family life, his highly successful business, or his high-handed and unforgiving personality? And what is the significance of the wallet found on the corpse, and the bank notes that it contained? 

~~~

What have you been reading lately?