#AuthorTrivia – Michael Jecks

morris3Michael Jecks is the author of the Medieval Knights Templar mystery series and the Bloody Mary mysteries featuring Jack BlackJack and in his spare time has a very pertinent hobby.

It involves jingling bells, waving hankies and clashing sticks. Yes, he is a Morris Man (light blue waistcoat left), but not just an occasional Morris Man, he has taken part in numerous events this summer and still has a few more coming up (details below). Why not go along to see him in action.

In one of his recent blogs he explained how he came to this very British tradition (let’s just say it involved beer).

morris1July 1 – South Brent Folk Event  10.30am-12 noon and 2.15pm-3.15pm

July 6 – Dance out with Dartmoor Border – 8pm-9pm

July 15 – Feast of St James, Tiverton Medieval Fair–  11.30am-3pm.

August 6 – Sidmouth Sunday – 10.30am-3pm

 

 

Morris Dancing (possibly derived from Moorish dancing) was first recorded in Britain in the mid-15th Century and so around the time of the start of the Tudor period.

The latest Bloody Mary Tudor mystery, A MURDER TOO SOON, is available to order now in the UK and will be available in ebook on 1 September.

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Did You Know. . .this about the Italian wolf?

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Lovers of wild animals will be pleased to know that the main character in this series, Seb Cangio, is an ethologist. He studies the behaviour of the wolves in the Apennine mountains in central Italy. Born in Calabria, however, he knows more than anyone else in Umbria about the two-legged ‘wolves’ who are the instruments of the  ’Ndrangheta, the most formidable criminal organization in the world.

The  ’Ndrangheta has tried to kill him before. He knows that they will try again…

 

The Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus) is a subspecies of grey wolf native to the Italian Peninsula. It inhabits the mountainous areas of the Apennine mountains. As of 2005, the Italian wolf population is estimated to consist of 500 individuals. It has been strictly protected in Italy since the 1970s, when the population reached a low of 70–100 individuals. The population is increasing steadily in number, though illegal hunting and persecution still constitute a threat. (Wikipedia).

The author consults closely with Bernardino Ragni, professor of animal biology and environmental zoology at the University of Perugia, an expert on the wolf population of the Apennines.

Any similarity between the behaviour of wolves and the behaviour of the ’Ndranghetisti (the soldiers of a Mafia clan) is purely coincidental. Wolves kill to satisfy their hunger. The ’Ndrangheta kills to satisfy its greed and maintain its power.

The first two titles in this series are Cry Wolf and Think Wolf. 

#BookExtract – Beyond Absolution by Cora Harrison

 

Praise for Cora Harrison’s previous Reverend Mother Mystery A Shocking Assassination  “Well-drawn characters, including a lead capable of sustaining a long series, complement the clever plot” ***Publishers Weekly

In the third of Cora Harrison’s coBeyond Absolution book jacketmpelling new Irish historical mystery series, Reverend Mother Aquinas must discover who murdered a much-loved priest.   

It’s Ireland, 1925. Pierced through to the brain, Father Dominic’s dead body is found wedged into the small, dark confessional cubicle.  Loved by all, he had lent a listening ear to sinners of all kinds: gunmen and policemen; prostitutes and nuns; prosperous businessmen and petty swindlers; tradesmen and thieves.

But who knelt behind the metal grid and inserted a deadly weapon into that listening ear?  

‘Would it have been anything to do with those republicans, with the IRA,’ he said breaking the silence.

She thought about this, not so much because she considered that there was any truth in that idea, but more to give the question due consideration.

‘No, I don’t think so,’ she said after a moment. ‘I think he was revered by the Republicans. Do you remember how he visited the men on hunger strike in the gaol, despite what the bishop said? And set up a first aid centre in the Father Matthew Hall to deal with wounds? He said someone had to look after these men as they did not dare go to the hospitals in case they would be handed over to the RIC – no, the Republicans would be the last people to injure Dominic.’

He nodded sadly and stared stonily ahead. She was half-sorry not to have discussed the question more; not to have encouraged him to talk.

‘Was there anything worrying him, do you think?’ She tried this question and was glad to see that he immediately turned back towards her.

‘Do you know; it’s funny that you said that? He came to me on Tuesday, not yesterday, the day before . . .’ He seemed to be thinking hard, and so she did not say anything, just waited quietly. After a few seconds, he gave a heavy sigh.

‘I suppose that there is no harm in saying this, because I am giving no details, just as he gave me no details, but he said, talking to me as his prior, not as his brother, he said that he was worried about something told to him under the shield of confession. He said that a man had confessed to him that he had been involved in some sinful crimes and that further crimes were planned by . . . by the gang, he said and Dom wondered whether without betraying the penitent . . . he was asking me whether he could take action to prevent such a crime. He would not betray anyone – that was what he said, but he could prevent robbery and perhaps a death.’

The Reverend Mother kept her silence for a long minute, but  Prior Lawrence did not appear to have anything else to say.

‘What did you say to him?’ she said eventually. He was staring at the altar, his face white and strained.

‘I said that I would have to think about it,’ he said and there was a note of bitterness, of self-hatred, perhaps, in his voice.

She reflected upon this. The seal of confession was a serious matter and she had often thanked God that this burden was not placed upon the shoulders of nuns.

‘I wouldn’t be sure what to say, either.’ She hoped that her voice held a matter-of-fact note. Lawrence needed comforting. He had been a deeply sensitive and almost morbid boy, lacking the happy assurance of his younger brother. She guessed that he would suffer over his apparent refusal to give advice to Dominic. So Dominic held a dangerous secret. Could this be connected with that strange death? Murder it must be; Dr Scher was a clever man. He had looked at the body, seen enough to have the strongest of suspicions and had immediately requested the presence of the police.

‘You can’t blame yourself in any way,’ she said as decisively as she could manage. ‘I’m sure he would have been happy to wait for your decision.’ Even as she said those words, she wondered whether they were true. Dominic was a man at peace with himself and did what he felt was right. He thought it right to minister to the wounded and to the dying whatever their politics and he went ahead and did it, without asking permission of anyone, not even of the prior at that time. The interdict of the bishop had meant nothing to Dominic. He had done what he felt was right to do.

BEYOND ABSOLUTION was published in the UK in April, and is also now available in the USA.  For further information about Cora Harrison and her work, please visit our website here.

 

Editor’s Pick – The Price of Silence by Dolores Gordon-Smith

9780727887269_FC.jpgThe Editor’s Pick from our July titles has been selected by Holly Domney.

THE PRICE OF SILENCE is the second espionage thriller that follows the adventures of British, secret agent Anthony Brookes. Set in the turbulent time of World War One, Dolores Gordon-Smith’s charming hero navigates London’s backstreets to pursue a murderous, mercenary gang. But little does he know that, to foil their ruthless plans, he would find himself crawling under the Dead Wire to sneak behind enemy lines in German-occupied Belgium.

The story follows the gang’s plans to kidnap a little girl from a Belgian convent and Anthony finds himself in the race to reach Milly before they do. But, even if he can save her, readers and characters alike are left questioning what possible use an orphan girl could be to a violent gang?

Against the backdrop of devastated wartime Belgium and the sinister plans of the gang, Anthony’s quick thinking, fortitude and ingenious disguises provide comic relief, as he attempts to deceive brutal German guards, break into the convent and rescue the helpless child.

And, in this sequel, Anthony is not alone. Gordon-Smith’s new leading lady, Tara Brookes, is just as fearless and intuitive as her husband and the welcome reappearance of old friend and colleague, Charles Talbot, means that THE PRICE OF SILENCE has a marvellous, mystery-cracking trio to unpick the secrecy that has already led to so much murder.

I would recommend THE PRICE OF SILENCE to anyone who wants a complex storyline, to be blind sighted by plot twists and relish the suspense of a constant race against time for the good guys to overcome the villains. With plenty of period flavour and a vivid evocation of wartime Britain and Belgium this would appeal to lovers of historical mysteries too.

Visit our website for more information on Dolores Gordon-Smith.

 

 

Did You Know…the origin of the word murder?

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In a A MURDER TOO SOON, the third title in the Jack Blackjack mystery series set in Tudor England, Jack is ordered to eliminate a spy in Princess Elizabeth’s household. Here, author Michael Jecks shares a historical fact about the origin of the role of a Coroner and also where the word ‘murder’ originates…

Did You Know . . . coroners were brought into being originally to bring in taxes for the Crown? They were primarily created in order to record how much money a village should pay when a homicide victim was discovered. After the Norman invasion, many Normans and their friends were killed by Anglo-Saxon rebels. If a body was found, the Coroner must be called. First, the village must “Present Englishry”. That meant they would have to declare that they knew who the dead person was. If they could not, it was assumed that the corpse was that of a Norman, which meant the “murdrum” fine would be imposed (which is why we have the term “murder”).

Even if the village could prove the dead man was a local, there were other fines to be imposed. One was “deodand”, which was based on the value of the weapon that broke the King’s Peace. If a dagger, it would be cheaper; if larger, the charge increased. Once a Coroner demanded the value of a cart and horses; the jury demurred, saying only one wheel caused the injury. The Coroner brought in a new jury from a neighbouring village to give him the result he wanted.

Deodand remained in force until the 1800s – it was stopped because railway companies complained when fined the value of a locomotive and carriages after a pedestrian was hit and killed!

A MURDER TOO SOON by Michael Jecks is out now in the UK and will be published in hardback in the USA on 1 September 2017, as well as in eBook.

Please visit here for further information about Michael Jecks and his work.

PRAISE FOR MICHAEL JECKS

REBELLION’S MESSAGE

“Jecks inaugurates his new series by moving from medieval times to the turbulent Tudor period. His unlikely detective is neither brave nor wise nor very bright, but he’s often quite funny as he doggedly tracks down an unexpected killer” Kirkus Reviews

“Jecks keeps the suspense at a steady boil as his well-rounded characters fight for a corner in tumultuous London with humor and even humanity”  Publishers Weekly 

 

Behind the Book – Other Countries by Jo Bannister

9780727887023When I first started getting to know the characters for this series of books – psychologically frail Gabriel Ash, cheerful young PC Hazel Best, cocky street-kid Saturday – the biggest issue I had was with Ash’s side-kick Patience.  Not because she seemed any less real to me, but because I wasn’t sure how readers would react to a serious crime novel featuring a talking dog.

I tried to dismiss the idea.  But Patience was having none of it, kept reasserting her personality and her right to a place in the plot.  Finally I wrote “Deadly Virtues” in such a way that, when my agent questioned my sanity, it would be possible to remove at least the talking bits of the talking dog.

To my surprise, my agent fell under Patience’s sway as much as I had, wouldn’t hear of downplaying her role.  And so it went on.  Publishers liked her; reviewers liked her; readers liked her.

So here she is again, worldly-wise and supportive and bringing that special perspective that only a dog can.  If Ash – no one else can hear her – wants to rationalise her unusual talent as a side-effect of his post-traumatic stress disorder, I’m happy to allow him that comfort.  I know, and readers know, better.

OTHER COUNTRIES is available now in hardcover and ebook. Visit our website for more information.

#BookExtract – The Devil’s Cup by Alys Clare

Sir Josse d’Aquin is summoned to assist the beleaguered King John in the latest Hawkenlye mystery, THE DEVIL’S CUP by Alys Clare.    

September 1216.  A 9780727887108foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d’Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself?  Meanwhile, Josse’s daughter Meggie is summoned to Hawkenlye Abbey to attend a sick patient in a very distressed state. The elderly woman is warning of terrible danger unless she can complete her mission. What she learns from her patient will set Meggie on a perilous journey to retrieve a cursed treasure. But will she be in time to prevent a tragedy? 

 

Here’s a sneak preview…

Then the wind changed.

The breeze, strengthening now, was coming from the sea. More quickly than Josse could have imagined possible, a sea fret came rolling in from the east, and where a moment ago they had been riding along in sunshine, with good visibility and no danger of allowing their horses to stray too close to the perilous marshes, suddenly everything was different.

They had come to a stream. It was quite wide, its banks dissipating into the surrounding marshy ground as its mouth opened out into the sea, although it didn’t appear to be deep; at least, it wasn’t when they first approached. But it had arrested their progress.  Up at the head of the train, a few rows in front of where Josse, Yves and Geoffroi rode, the King and his senior attendants were talking to the local guides. Quite soon they were not so much talking as arguing. The King, as ever, wanted to hurry on across the stream and be on his way. The elder of the two guides – a weathered man of late middle age with a skin tanned by sun and sea and deep-set grey eyes – was advising caution.

‘Tide turned quite a while ago,’ he said calmly. ‘With this mist we can’t see out to sea, but what I can make out of conditions out there I don’t much like.’

‘Explain,’ said the King tersely.

The man paused, obviously thinking. ‘Water’s higher than it should be at this time,’ he said eventually. He fixed the King with his grey stare, apparently undaunted at being in conversation with his monarch. ‘I’m thinking perhaps something’s piling up the sea out there.’ He nodded towards the Wash.

The King tapped his crop against his boot, the gesture swift with irritated impatience. ‘What do you mean?’ he demanded.

The man paused once more, then said, ‘You get the onshore wind, see. Out of the east, like this here.’ He raised a hand in a cupping gesture, as if testing the air. ‘Now there’s strange currents swirling out there at the base of the Wash. They’re unpredictable.’ He paused, gazing out to where the sea could be heard but no longer seen. ‘Sometimes – and my bones tell me this is one such time – the wind and the current combine with the tide, and the water rushing in up these streams and little rivers comes with an unusual force.’

The King urged his horse forward so that he stood on the near bank of the stream. ‘The water does not look deep,’ he said. His tone, Josse thought, was carefully neutral.

‘Maybe not. But, like I said, the tide’s coming in.’

The guide gave the impression that he thought that was the end of the argument.

But the King said, ‘How long until it goes out again?’

The guide narrowed his eyes. ‘Won’t be before dusk. And, if I’m right and there’s a surge of water coming in, it’ll be later.’

The King sat silent for some time. Watching him closely, Josse sensed he was deeply uneasy. He is spooked by this place, he thought. He mistrusts the marshes, the rank smell, the silvery fog off the sea insinuating itself through the air. But just then, a ray of soft, golden sunshine speared down through the mist, diving down between the billows of cloud and piercing the ground almost at the feet of the King’s horse.

The King’s expression changed. His mouth stretched into a triumphant smile, he roared, ‘An omen! God is with us!’ Then, nudging his horse further into the water, he said with an air of utter finality, ‘We go on.’

There was a low murmur among the attendants. The younger guide, anguish on his face, spoke to the older man in a low voice, the words indistinguishable but urgency clear in his very tone. The older guide nodded.

‘My lord King,’ he called, ‘we do not advise this. There is a wide band of quicksand in mid-stream, slightly closer to the far bank, and, in this mist and with the water coming in so fast, it’s not going to be easy to spot it.’

Without turning round, the King called out coldly, ‘Then the pair of you should keep your eyes open and be particularly vigilant.’ Then, raising his right arm, he shouted, ‘On!

THE DEVIL’S CUP by Alys Clare is published in the UK this month, and in the US in August 2017.  For further information about Alys Clare, please visit our website here.

 

Did You Know . . . this about Woodstock?

9781780290980This week’s interesting fact was supplied by Michael Jecks whose latest title, A MURDER TOO SOON, is available now. 

Woodstock was an ancient palace? Long before the rock festival, there was a fabulous royal palace. It was originally a hunting lodge built by Henry I, with seven miles of walls about it to protect his park, where lions and leopards are said to have roamed. It was here that Henry II had his first argument with Thomas a Becket, and Henry III liked the place so much he had a chapel and made the buildings more secure.

However, by the time of Queen Mary, the palace had fallen into decay. Mary herself must have had a poor opinion of the place, because it was here that her mother was installed when Henry VIII became infatuated with Anne Boleyn and married her. This galling experience clearly influenced her when she chose the place later to imprison her half-sister, Elizabeth. The irony of placing Anne Boleyn’s daughter in the palace where Mary’s mother had once been held must have been delicious to her – especially when she chose Sir Henry Bedingfield as Elizabeth’s guard, the son of the man who had been steward and gaoler of Queen Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon.

Please visit our website for more information on this series.

 

#BookExtract – Murder Take Three by Eric Brown

Murder Take Three book jacketMURDER TAKE THREE by Eric Brown is a British Country House mystery.  Private Investigator Donald Langham discovers that truth is stranger than fiction when he investigates a murder on an American movie set on location in an Elizabethan Manor house in the depths of the Norfolk countryside…

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The door opened and a young woman stepped into the office, then paused and stared around her as if surprised to find herself in a shabby, down-at-heel detective agency on Wandsworth High Street.

Langham, for his part, was no less surprised that this strikingly attractive woman should have sought out the services of Ryland and Langham. She was perhaps thirty, a little over five feet tall, and had a small, perfectly proportioned face, brilliant crimson lips, and a head of tight, platinum blonde curls. She wore a cream pencil skirt, a box-shouldered jade blouson, and carried a tiny black handbag that was obviously more for show than utility.

“Donald Langham,” he said. “If you’d care to take a seat…” He indicated a rickety spindle-backed chair before the desk.

She remained standing, her small nose wrinkling suddenly. “What in God’s name is that awful smell?” she asked in a distinct American accent.

“Ah. That’s the distinctive redolence of month old beef dripping.”

“Say again?”

“Stale fat. We’re directly above a fish and chip shop. You get so that you don’t notice it, after a while.”

“I’m sure you do,” she said, eyeing the chair dubiously before seating herself and crossing her legs. “I must admit that this wasn’t quite what I was expecting.”

Contrasted with the woman’s startling perfection, the office with its peeling, thrice-painted green wallpaper, worn brown linoleum, and fly-specked window, looked nothing like the headquarters of a successful detective agency.

Langham sat back. “We like to expend profits on assuring that our clients receive the best service possible,” he said, parroting the line he’d heard Ralph Ryland use more than once.

She stared at him across the desk, appraisingly. “And you don’t exactly fit the bill as a tough-guy private eye.”

He laughed. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Now, how can I help?”

MURDER TAKE THREE by Eric Brown is available in hardcover now in the UK and in the USA in August 2017.  Please visit our website here for further information.

Approaching research by Eric Brown

Twice winner of the British Science Fiction Award, Eric Brown is the author of more than twenty SF novels and several short story collections. His debut crime novel, Murder by the Book, was published in 2013 and his latest book featuring crime writer sleuth Donald Langham, Murder Take Three, was published in the UK in April, and will be published in the USA in August.  

HMurder Take Three book jacketere, Eric Brown speaks a little about his approach to research…

One of the dangers of writing books set in a certain historical period is the temptation to put too much of your hard-won nuggets of research into the finished novel. In early drafts of Murder By the Book, the first Langham and Dupré novel set in 1955, I stuffed a lot of needless detail into the narrative that might have been relevant to social historians of the period, but which, I realised, held up the flow of the story. I found that a guide of how to suggest the period was to read novels set in the fifties, when authors were writing of the time – they didn’t need to establish a sense of period: it was a given. What I learned from these novels was that a greater flavour of the fifties could be given by writing realistic dialogue that reflected the time: morals, social standing, education, etc. This allowed me to get on with the story I wanted to tell.

Praise for Eric Brown’s previous books:

MURDER BY THE BOOK 

“Charming characters and a consistently entertaining tone mark this crime debut from sci-fi veteran Brown”  Kirkus Reviews 

MURDER AT THE CHASE

“Plenty of unexpected twists. Agatha Christie fans will find a lot to like.”  Publishers Weekly 

 “Brown’s charming English locked-room mystery (after Murder by the Book) features a well-crafted and exciting plot and two attractive protagonists who epitomize a postwar English generation willing to reach across class lines. For readers who enjoy classic Golden Age mysteries.”  Library Journal 

MURDER AT THE LOCH

“This promises to be a fine series, if future instalments are as good as the first three have been”  Booklist 

 “This charming book, which follows Murder at the Chase, brings to the page well-defined characters and a classic locked-room structure. Recommend for anyone who loves English country house murders”  Library Journal 

For further information about Eric Brown and his work, please visit our website here.