Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Edi's Lighthouse Chatter: Fascination of Medieval England

I'm reading a book about Medieval England: The Time Traveller's Guide To Medieval England (June 2009, 368 p.) [ISBN-13: 978-1845950996], by Ian Mortimer
and parallel
I read The Sweet Smell of Decay (June 2009, 448 p.) [ISBN-13: 978-1905636426], by Paul Lawrence, which is settled in London1664.

I did not expect that especially The Time Traveller's Guide To Medieval England which is a history book, would have such an impact on me, on my reading wishes. it is not new to me. I have had this before but I never posted about it.

Around twenty years ago I spent a lot of time for reading books similar to The Sweet Smell of Decay and settled in Medieval England. I still remember two series:

I loved the twenty books in the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.
"Cadfael is the lead character in a series of books by Ellis Peters. He is a Welshman, now in his 60s, and a Brother in the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul, in Shrewsbury, England. The time is the 1100s, while Stephen and Maud are contending for the throne of England. Cadfael is now a brother, but he has been in the world- he spent 15 (or so) years in the Mideast, first as a Crusader, then as captain of a fishing boat. While there, he began to learn about gardening and herbs, he loved several women and even fathered a son, although he did not know it at the time. Finally, the quiet, the peace of the monastery called to him, and he came home to England and took vows. When the series begins, he has been a brother for about 15 years. His adventures are all centered in life in the Monastery, which is the center of his life, but they also show that he has not turned away completely from the world." [Source] [More information about Cadfael]
Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan
And I loved a little bit more the ten books in the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan series by Paul Harding (pen name of Paul Doherty)
"Meet young Brother Athelstan, a dedicated Dominican monk with two callings. In one of medieval London's poorest parishes, he atones for his past sins by ministering to prostitutes, thieves and other castoffs. But it is as clerk to the Falstaffian coroner of London, Sir John Cranston, examining the bodies of the freshly, foully murdered, that he has come to understand how dark and villainous the human heart can be." [Source]

Nostalgia? Not really. It is the growing yearn for novels settled in "Old" England and connected with crime and mystery. Embedded by The Time Traveller's Guide To Medieval England and The Sweet Smell of Decay and in front of my laptop I was forced to search for books in order to satisfy my yearning. And that is what I found: The second book in a series, two stand-alone books and two ongoing series. In sum thirteen books!

I like The Sweet Smell of Decay a lot. Will tell you more about it in my review to be posted on April 25th. I will definitely read the second book in the The Harry Lytle Chronicles series. A Plague of Sinners [ISBN: 978-1905636914] will be published on May 18th 2010:
"July 1665.
The great plague rages rampant outside London’s city walls. Harry Lytle makes a welcome return after his trials and tribulations in The Sweet Smell of Decay to investigate the murder of the Earl of St Albans. A grisly dinner-table death starts Harry off on the trail, and it’s not long before his familiar accomplice, Dowling the butcher, joins him on the case. Their master, Lord Arlington, head of the King’s intelligence service, tasks them with uncovering the name and motive of the Earl’s murderer. But there will be plenty more deaths and scrapes for Harry before the name is revealed." [Source]

The next book is a stand-alone and settled in England around 1560. The Bones of Avalon (HC, April 2010) [ISBN-13: 978-1848872707] by Phil Rickman.
I recommend to read Erin Britton's review over at bookgeeks. But of course you get the cover and the blurb:
"Religious strife, Glastonbury legends, the bones of King Arthur and the curse of the Tudors...can Renaissance man John Dee help the young Queen Elizabeth to avoid it? It is 1560. Elizabeth Tudor has been on the throne for a year, the date for her coronation having been chosen by her astrologer, Dr John Dee, at just 32 already famous throughout Europe as a mathematician and expert in the hidden arts. But neither Elizabeth nor Dee feel entirely secure. Both have known imprisonment for political reasons. The Queen is unpopular with both Roman Catholics and the new breed of puritanical protestant. Dee is regarded with suspicion in an era where the dividing line between science and sorcery is, at best, indistinct. And the assignment he's been given by the Queen's chief minister, Sir William Cecil, will blur it further: ride to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, bring back King Arthur's bones. The mission takes the mild, bookish Dee to the tangled roots of English magic and the Arthurian legacy so important to the Tudors. Into unexpected violence, spiritual darkness, the breathless stirring of first love...and the cold heart of a complex plot against Elizabeth. With him is his friend and former student, Robert Dudley, a risk-taker, a wild card...and possibly the Queen's secret lover. Dee is Elizabethan England's forgotten hero. A man for whom this world - even the rapidly-expanding world of the Renaissance - was never enough." [Source]
Heresy (HC, April 2010) [ISBN-13: 978-0007317660] by S. J. Parris is settled in England 1583. Only twenty years later than the book before. For more information I recommend to read Anna Mundow's review. And this is the UK cover and the blurb:
"Masterfully blending true events with fiction, this blockbuster historical thriller delivers a page-turning murder mystery set on the sixteenth-century Oxford University campus.
Giordano Bruno was a monk, poet, scientist, and magician on the run from the Roman Inquisition on charges of heresy for his belief that the Earth orbits the sun and that the universe is infinite. This alone could have got him burned at the stake, but he was also a student of occult philosophies and magic.
In S. J. Parris's gripping novel, Bruno's pursuit of this rare knowledge brings him to London, where he is unexpectedly recruited by Queen Elizabeth I and is sent undercover to Oxford University on the pretext of a royal visitation. Officially Bruno is to take part in a debate on the Copernican theory of the universe; unofficially, he is to find out whatever he can about a Catholic plot to overthrow the queen.
His mission is dramatically thrown off course by a series of grisly murders and a spirited and beautiful young woman. As Bruno begins to discover a pattern in these killings, he realizes that no one at Oxford is who he seems to be. Bruno must attempt to outwit a killer who appears obsessed with the boundary between truth and heresy." [Source]
The first series is settled in 16th Century England. Four books have been published so far. The fifth will be available in September 2010. Dissolution (2003) [ISBN-13: 978-0142004302] by C. J. Sansom is the debut novel in the Shardlake series. I recommend to read Jessica Plonka's review. Read the introduction:
"It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers it has ever seen. Under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries. There can be only one outcome: dissolution.
But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell's commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege – a black cockerel sacrificed on the church altar, and the disappearance of Scarnsea's Great Relic.
Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell into this atmosphere of treachery and death, accompanied by his loyal assistant Mark. His duty is to discover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea." [Source]
For more information about Dark Fire (2004), Sovereign (2006), Revelation (2008) and Heartstone (2010) click here.

The second series is settled in England around 1660. So we jumped a bit forward in time. A Conspiracy of Violence (2006) [ISBN-13: 978-0751537581] by Susanna Gregory is the first book in the Thomas Chaloner series.
"The grim days of Cromwell are past. Charles II is well established at White Hall Palace--his mistress at hand in rooms over the Holbein Bridge, and the heads of regicides on public display. Freed from the strictures of the Protectorate, London seethes with new energy, but many of its citizens have lost their livelihoods. One is Thomas Chaloner, a reluctant spy for the feared Secretary of State, John Thurloe, and now returned from Holland in desperate need of work. His erstwhile employer, knowing that he has many enemies at court, recommends Thomas to Lord Clarendon, but in return demands that Thomas keep him informed of any plot against him. But what Thomas discovers is that Thurloe had sent another ex-employee to White Hall--and he is dead, purportedly murdered by footpads near the Thames. Thomas volunteers to investigate his killing; instead he is dispatched to the Tower to unearth the gold buried by the last Governor. There, he discovers not treasure, but evidence that, whomever is in power, greed and self-interest are uppermost in men's minds. And that his own life has no value to either side." [Source]
For more information about Blood On the Strand (2006), The Butcher of Smithfield (2008), The Westminster Poisoner (2008), A Murder on London Bridge (2009), The Body in the Thames (2011) click here.

Dear Readers, I hoped you liked the books I discovered. Any comment is welcome .....


chasingbawa said...

I'm a big fan of historical mysteries as well since I first discovered Brother Cadfael. Candace Robb's 'The Apothecary Rose', Michael Clynes 'The White Rose Murders' and Elizabeth Eyre's 'Death of a Duchess' are all wonderful too.

ediFanoB said...

Hi chasingbawa,

thank you very much for your recommendations. I will have a look at the mentioned books.

ediFanoB said...


Michael Clynes is one of the pen names of Paul Doherty.
When you look again at my post you will recognize that I mentioned Paul Harding which is an other pen name of Paul Doherty :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've not read The Time Traveller's Guide . I do have a fascination with history, particularly that time period, so I will check it out next time I'm ordering books.

ediFanoB said...


wait until you have read my review of The Time Traveller's Guide which is just in progress.....

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