Alex Connor, Legacy of Blood
A Harlot’s Progress – Past and Present
Hogarth’s painting in the lost series ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ causes mayhem and murders when art dealers meet on a private flight bound for London. Connor takes her readers to seedy and coarse surroundings and uses violence as a plot device.
The convincing flashbacks to Hogarth’s time may feature the best writing in this thriller. The murders in the book’s present are graphic and frankly disturbing. All in all, the plot builds up to something spectacular, but in the end, everything falls flat. The reason is one of those barely concealed hooks to interest the reader in the next volume of a series. There are likeable and credible characters, but others are less aptly portrayed.
Where did Ms Connor get the idea that an illegitimate child would threaten the royal succession In England – or any country?
By the way, when looking at the print of that lost painting, number two in Hogarth’s prints known as A Harlot’s Progress, it becomes clear that the harlot isn’t pregnant. Moll Hackabout (Hogarth’s protagonist in the prints) aka Polly Gunnell (Hogarth’s model in Legacy of Blood) isn’t pregnant until plate three, and the print shows evidence of her dalliance with a notorious highway robber. Before then, she has come down in the world – the bailiffs are arriving to take her to Bridewell. In plate six, her son is portrayed as a halfwit. That would imply that an illegitimate halfwit would have the power to endanger the succession in the Royal House. Is that likely? Other than that, there isn’t much to say for or against the book. Reading it, you get drawn into the plot, but if the premise for the story is hard to swallow, there isn’t much chance that it will convince a wider audience.
Seb Kirby, Take No More
A Shady Part of The Art World
The intrigue in this thriller orbits around the search for famous artworks, hidden in the layers of old paintings. Kirby presents vivid characters and plot-driven suspense.
James Blake finds himself holding his wife in his arms as she dies, a murder victim. No wonder, that he must face being the main suspect. His reaction to that is to work on unravelling the mystery himself. That takes him to Florence and into contact with the mafioso underworld. It is hit or miss if he’ll survive. He gets help from his brother, an investigating journalist, and his partner, an Italian photographer.
The plot abounds with twists and turns. The only downside to this engaging thriller is that Kirby wraps up the narrative in a cursory manner in the last chapter. Personally, I’d have loved it, had the ending been presented in greater detail. All the same, this novel is well worth reading.
Lucinda E Clarke, A Year in the Life of Leah Brand
Suspense with a Humorous Core
Leah Brand has a dreadful year. From her husband’s beloved dog dying, everything turns out wrong and frightening. Leah comes to doubt her sanity and with good reason. Not because she is insane or anywhere near to it. Ms Clarke shows what mental abuse can do to its victims. Throughout the story, Ms Clarke keeps a light touch and a humorous tone, which makes the suspense elements all the creepier. Recommended.
Jim Heter, The Lamia
Shapeshifting, Shamanism, a Female (Half) Goddess.
Dema Culver is a field agent for the DEA (the drug enforcement administration) – with a difference. On the surface a modern and efficient agent, underneath a vulnerable soul. The storyline puts her on the spot with wicked drug lords that don’t hold back from a kidnapping.
This is where the plot splits in two. The modern crime thriller meets an ancient race of goddesses. There are numerable half- and absolute goddesses in the myths going from the Minoan culture over Egypt and China to the Aztecs and Haiti. Sprinkle in the myth of Persephone in the guise of Dema’s sister Kore and you have a female orientated myth that spans defeat and victory in the fight between good and evil.
It was fascinating to follow how Mr Heter managed to fit together the two seemingly incongruous parts. In my opinion, the mythical parts worked better than the modern parts, as the protagonist’s scope for development appeared larger during her transformation from modern-day woman-agent to a reincarnation of an ancient goddess. All in all, a rewarding encounter with an unusual author.
Jennie Ensor, The Girl in His Eyes
A Challenging Theme, A Forceful Book
Laura, Suzanne, and Paul are stuck in a triangle of pain and lies. Their relationship and the consequences of their tangled lives are unfolded in this darkly suspenseful novel. Reading this, it becomes clear that this relationship isn’t just a three-way relationship, it is a family triangle of unhealthy proportions.
Laura is unable to hold down a job and has few friends. Her mother, Suzanne, is a grown-up child, who flees into new-age doctrines to overcome her loss of youth. Paul, the man in the house, resists facing his crimes and does his utmost to convince himself that what he does is normal. That his delusion results in damage, to a person outside the family, is the necessary consequence of his history.
Why Laura is withdrawn and insecure becomes painfully clear as the story unfolds. Why Suzanne became the wife of her husband, and why their marriage is falling apart, adds depth to the agonizing situation. Paul stays at the core of the family’s trouble. His aberration is the force behind his lies and delusions.
This is a strong and insightful unravelling of child abuse within families and without. In separate chapters, Jennie Ensor allows the three protagonists to speak for themselves, and the close third-person approach makes for compelling reading. Highly recommended.
JS Frankel, Master Fantastic
White and Black Magic
Paul is an orphan, but otherwise a normal boy. That is true, until he witnesses how a demon kills his best friend. The demons attack is so vicious that it deafens Paul.
Enter Master Fantastic. He is an elementalist and sticks to a sorcerer’s code of conduct. In his youth, he was a sorcerer’s apprentice and that caused unforeseen consequences. His former master dabbled in black magic, and that, among other problems, heaps dangers on his daughter, Myrna who is born deaf.
Master F needs a helper, preferably somebody who knows sign language. So, he takes Paul into his employ, but without revealing her history.
It turns out that Paul’s new job is unusual and his job-description inadequate. There are visits to parallel worlds, and there are unexpected dangers. Paul soon realizes that the demon he already met is his employer’s worst adversary.
This is a coming of age tale. Paul must use his practical sense and develop courage. Thus, he becomes a modern-day St George, facing a dragon – with a twist.
The characters are all well-developed and believable, from Paul’s uncle, who neglects Paul, to the demon, Hekla. As always, Frankel writes compelling and wittily, and with a nod to the mythical nature of his fantasies.
Barbara Monier, The Rocky Orchard
An In-Between Parable
We meet the protagonist, Mazie, in an old farmhouse that means everything to her. There we find the rocky orchard of the title, a kind of wasteland and perhaps a symbol of life.
Evocative and haunting, Mazie’s life unfolds. There are flashes forward and back in time, and they have a purpose. Monier reveals what it is, through Mazie’s conversations with an old lady, Lulu, who visits the farm. Mazie’s interactions with friends, with her family, including her brother, Woo, with her boyfriend, Sean, come to light in those conversations. As Lulu listens, she helps Mazie to understand and integrate her experiences. This enigmatic story about life and death will resonate with its reader for a long time.
Raymond St Elmo, The Stations of the Angels
A Literary Tempest
This is another whirlwind of an experience. You can’t call it a book or a novel. It’s an allegory. A parallel world – with all the customary members-only presented in Dadaist colours and surrealist guises. The world consists of several houses, the burning house, the ghost house, the clown house, the lion house, the mouse house, the moon house, the lighthouse the dolls’ house, the mourning house, the sewage house, the warlike house, the judging house, the dead(?) house. The central houses are the burning house, the ghost house, and the clown house. There are would-be vampires, desperate or indulgent parents, spiteful siblings, longsuffering teachers, a blind girl, a lunatic family. Most importantly, there are Clarence and Kim, as well as a handful of memorable secondary characters. In short, there’s every possible element that can make you wonder and think about the absurd theatre that we humans are so fond of staging. There’s scope for laughing too, but otherwise, this wouldn’t be one of St Elmo’s pop up worlds that let you look deep into the human soul.
© HMH, 2020