Tuesday, 27 March 2018

'The Darkness'

Yet another Tuesday book review. I never set out for this to be a book blog, but there seem to be so many books worth talking about.
This week’s review is The Darkness by Ragner Jonasson. I’m reviewing it because I got a free copy from NetGalley and my feeling is that if publishers give you books for free in the hope of seeing them reviewed, then it’s only polite to blog about them.

I asked for a copy of The Darkness because I’m a big Scandi-noir fan on TV and I’ve visited Iceland and know people from there.
From the beginning, I knew that my taste for noir was going to be well catered for. We have the weary police officer – a woman, as seems so often the case in Scandi-noir.
As was her habit, she spoke a little too fast, her voice friendly and upbeat, part of the positive persona she had adopted in her professional life… Alone at home in the evenings, she could be the complete opposite of this person, all her reserves of energy depleted, leaving her prey to tiredness and depression, the visions of the past haunting her, the fear of the future looming over her.
Our heroine, Hulda, reports to a barely competent boss. (Are there no competent senior male officers in Scandinavia? Not to judge from their detective fiction anyway.) She is coming up to retirement and her boss, anxious to sideline her, tells her to investigate an old case. So she ends up looking into the unexplained death of a woman found drowned by the shore more than a year earlier.
So far, so unremarkable. Hulda is a fully realised character with a complex back story which emerges as the book continues. You get quite a nice sense of Icelandic society – the long summer evenings, the isolation of everywhere outside Reykjavik, the continual worrying about money since the economic collapse, the beauty of the countryside and the ambivalent attitude to refugees. Much coffee is drunk.
As the story continues, though, the noir becomes rather dark, even for this genre. [SPOLERS IN NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS]
There’s been some controversy lately about the Staunch award for fiction which does not feature any acts of violence against women. This book would not qualify, even if the initial murder victim did not count. By the end, there is only one incidental female character who is not dead or in prison for a long time. I won’t tell you who that is, just so as not to spoil the suspense. Men get off comparatively lightly, although one minor character is also murdered. People are hit with rocks, an ice axe, and a car, or buried alive. Iceland has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. Two murders in a year would usually be considered a lot but Hulda’s case is looking to bust every record.
Basically, in this story every time somebody receives good news, it seems a prelude to a nasty death. Although the pace is lively and the story is involving, it gets a bit depressing after a while. I quite enjoyed it, but it won’t be to everybody’s taste.
As a mystery, it is reasonably satisfying. There are clues (I missed them all, but they were definitely there) and you might be able to work out whodunnit before Hulda does.
The story was written in Icelandic and translated into English and this has led to the odd infelicitous choice of words. I’m not sure that I really approve of “pale white” whatever Procul Harum said, and “leafy suburbs” have very different connotations in England from in Iceland. Generally, though, the book reads well. But if this were a coffee, it would be a triple-shot espresso without sugar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The March on Paris


Wondering why you haven't seen a post here for a couple of weeks? It's because I've been on holiday and while I still posted to my blog on its new site (http://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk/blog/), I didn't post here on the archive site. This is going to happen more and more often as time goes on. Why don't you switch to http://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk with all the other goodies you can see there? It's the best way to keep up with my latest blog posts and news about my books.

Meanwhile, here is what you missed:


Napoleon’s landing generated more surprised than alarm in Paris. Nobody thought that he was heading toward the capital. It had always been assumed that if Napoleon had escaped from Elba he would have moved against Italy and now people said that his plan was to move through Piedmont to attack Italy from the North, intending to join his brother-in-law, the King of Naples.
Had they been able to hear the declarations that were being made on the south coast, they would have been less sanguine. Bonaparte was promising that he had returned to rouse the country to a due sense of its inglorious sufferings and to avenge its wrongs. He promised to restore the French border to the Rhine (regaining land lost to Prussia) and to reverse the laws that the Bourbons had introduced.
Bonaparte moved fast, skirting any areas where he feared he might face opposition. He led his small force from the coast towards Grenoble. This was a bold move, as Grenoble was the main depot for French troops in the area and the commander, General Marchand, was loyal to the new regime. It is possible, though, that Napoleon knew that he had supporters amongst the Grenoble garrison.
Marchand sent troops to detain Napoleon and the little band of exiles found themselves stopped by a vastly superior force. Napoleon is said to have gone on foot to the head of his men and stepped forward towards Marchand’s troops. Opening his coat, he said, “Behold me: if there be one among you who would kill his Emperor, let him fire.” The troops, rather than open fire, called “Vive l’Empereur,” and promptly switched sides. Marchand fled with the keys to the city, and in response the townspeople pulled down the city gate, surrendering Grenoble to Napoleon’s troops.
Only when news of the defection of the Grenoble garrison reached Paris did the Bourbon government take Napoleon seriously. The garrison at Lyons was prepared to stop Napoleon, with two thousand troops ready to defend the city. On 10 March, the mayor  issued a proclamation ordering citizens to stay indoors and trust in the law. Again, though, the troops proved disloyal.
[Napoleon’s] appearance before Lyons awakened the cries of ” Vive l’Empereur!” from the soldiers, in which they were joined by the populace, and he entered without resistance.
By the 11 March, the mayor was proclaiming his loyalty to Napoleon.
Up until the fall of Lyons, Napoleon had styled himself Lieutenant-General. He had always wanted to see his son succeed him as ruler of France and so he maintained the fiction that he was simply a general in his son’s army. After Lyons, though, this pretence was dropped and he began to style himself ‘Emperor’ again and issue imperial decrees.
Marshal Ney, who had been one of Napoleon’s most trusted generals, was now in Paris where he had sworn his allegiance to Louis. He asked  the king to put him in command of a force to stop Napoleon. Louis promptly made him a field marshal and gave him command of the troops in the area of Lons-le-Saulnier on Napoleon’s line of march sending him on his way with a substantial amount of gold to pay his men. Ney is widely said to have promised Louis that he would bring Napoleon back to Paris “in an iron cage” Instead, Ney, too, defected, taking with him all the troops under his command, as well as the cash.
Napoleon now commanded a force of around 15,000 well-armed men. More importantly, the repeated desertion of soldiers sent to stop him made the government believe that sending any other forces south from Paris would simply add to the number of men deserting to Napoleon’s banners. The government decided to make a last stand just south of Paris, with ten thousand men of the new National Guard (which, unlike the army, owed no allegiance to Napoleon).
Suddenly, a single open carriage appeared from the woods in front of the National Guard, coming toward them at full speed. It was Napoleon, waving his hand and opening his arms to the troops. With cries of “Vive l’Empereur” discipline in the royal army collapsed.
Louis was finally forced to admit that he had lost the country and he fled Paris at one in the morning on 20 March 1815.
Throughout the following day, the people of Paris waited, uncertain of what was to come. Crowds of Royalists, crying “Vive le Roi” faced off against crowds of Bonaparte’s supporters with their own cries of “Vive l’Empereur”. Bloodshed was only avoided by the intervention of National Guardsmen who preserved an uneasy peace. By afternoon, with Napoleon’s advance guard already arriving, people had, as people do, decided to welcome their new master. Napoleon requisitioned all the wine and Paris was soon partying.
The health of the Emperor, General Bertrand, and of the Old Guard, was toasted with an enthusiasm that can only be perfectly understood by those who were present, while the most lively imagination is quite inadequate to furnish a picture of the exhilarating scene that Paris presented on this occasion; tricoloured ribbons and bunches of violets decorated almost every bosom.
Napoleon waited until after dark to arrive at the Tuileries, perhaps uncertain of the reception he would be offered in Paris. He arrived without ceremony, still in his travelling coach, at nine that night. A huge crowd, though, waited to welcome him to the Tuileries and he was carried up the great staircase into the king’s apartments on the shoulders of his officers.
Napoleon was back in control of France and the countdown to Waterloo had begun.


Helen Maria Williams: A narrative of the events which have taken place in France, from the landing of Napoleon Bonaparte on 1 March, 1815, till the restoration of Louis XVIII, with an account of the present state of society and public opinion at that period. Although this was published in 1895, it consists of letters written from France at the time.
William Mudford (1817) An Historical Account of the Campaign in the Netherlands in 1815
William Hodgson (1841) The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, Once Emperor of the French, who Died in Exile, at St. Helena, After a Captivity of Six Years’ duration

A word from our sponsor

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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Outlaw’s Ransom: Playing with History

Jennifer Ash (aka Jenny Kane) has just had ‘The Outlaw’s Ransom’ republished (it’s all the rage now, as I’m demonstrating with my own books), so instead of a book review my Tuesday book page is being handed over to her so that she can tell you about it.
Take it away, Jennifer.

*   *   *

Many years ago, long before those mobile phone things came along – when laptops were but a pipe-dream and coffee was either simply black or white – I studied ‘Medieval English Economy and Crime’ at the University of Leicester. Basically, I spent five years in historian heaven researching the correlation between the political songs and ballads of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the real criminal records of the day. I read a lot of Robin Hood stories, a huge number of early political satire and more crime rolls than I can remember.
My research became a PhD, and since that time I’ve wanted to use my work for something more accessible than dry and dusty academic papers. To begin with I tutored medieval economy at Leicester Uni, but then my husband’s job was moved to Scotland, and as they didn’t teach English Medieval history north of the border, my career was somewhat scuppered.
Now, 20 or so years later, after being a professional writer for 13 of those years, I have finally put my efforts and historical detective work to use by writing The Outlaw’s Ransom – my very first medieval mystery. Not only is this my first foray into standalone medieval crime- it is the initial story in a series of novels called ‘The Folville Chronicles.’ (Book 2- The Winter Outlaw, will be published in April this year.)
The Outlaw’s Ransom revolves around the real-life fourteenth century criminal gang, the Folvilles- the very gang I concentrated much of my doctoral research on. This family, made up of 7 brothers (John, Eustace, Richard, Robert, Thomas, Walter and Laurence), lived in Ashby-Folville, Leicestershire, but they ruled a larger area of the country, which included Rutland, Northamptonshire and part of Derbyshire.
I must confess I rather enjoyed taking historical fact and giving it a fictional spin. Although The Outlaw’s Ransom contains many factual events – I have played fast and loose with history. So, please don’t go using any of the information within its pages in a pub quiz without checking it first!
Here’s the blurb-
When potter’s daughter Mathilda is kidnapped by the notorious Folville brothers as punishment for her father’s debts, she fears for her life. Although of noble birth, the Folvilles are infamous throughout the county for using crime to rule their lands—and for using any means necessary to deliver their distinctive brand of ‘justice’.
Mathilda must prove her worth to the Folvilles in order to win her freedom. To do so, she must go against her instincts and, disguised as the betrothed of Robert de Folville, undertake a mission that will send her to Bakewell in Derbyshire, and the home of Nicholas Coterel, one of the most villainous men in England.
With her life in the hands of more than one dangerous brigand, Mathilda must win the trust of the Folville’s housekeeper, Sarah, and Robert Folville himself if she has any chance of survival.
Never have the teachings gleaned from the tales of Robyn Hode been so useful…
If that has whetted your appetite- then here are those all important buy links!
(Please note that if you have read Romancing Robin Hood by Jenny Kane and Jennifer Ash- then you will already be familiar with the story with The Outlaw’s Ransom)
Many thanks for inviting me to stop by today Tom,
Happy reading,
Jennifer x
With a background in history and archaeology, Jennifer Ash should really be sat in a dusty university library translating Medieval Latin criminal records, and writing research documents that hardly anyone would want to read. Instead, tucked away in the South West of England, Jennifer writes stories of medieval crime, steeped in mystery, with a side order of romance.

Influenced by a lifelong love of Robin Hood and medieval ballad literature, Jennifer has written The Outlaw’s Ransom (Book One in The Folville Chronicles) – a short novel, which first saw the light of day within the novel Romancing Robin Hood (written under the name Jenny Kane; Pub. Littwitz Press, 2018).

Book Two of The Folville Chronicles – The Winter Outlaw – will be released in April 2018. (pub. LittwitzPress)

All of Jennifer and Jenny Kane’s news can be found at www.jennykane.co.uk

Friday, 9 March 2018


Endeavour are continuing to republish the John Williamson Chronicles and last week the second in the series came out.
Cawnpore is a story about the Indian Mutiny (or First Indian War of Independence). When I wrote it, I thought everybody would understand that it was going to be a tragedy because when I was a child we were still taught about Cawnpore at school. It was one of the most famous massacres of the British Empire – by which I mean a massacre in which local people were killing the British, rather than the other way about. It turns out that nowadays people are blissfully unaware of the implications of the title, so some of them seem to have been taken aback when, essentially, everybody dies. That may be a spoiler, but the way things work out in the book was never intended to be a surprise. The story is closely based on an actual historical event and “everybody dies” is what this historical event was all about.

What intrigued me about Cawnpore was that the horror seems to have arisen from the structural problems of colonialism. The British at Cawnpore were not generally bad people and the leaders of the Mutiny were not, by and large, the monsters that they were later represented as. The events that led to slaughter on a horrific scale, carried out across India by both Indians and Europeans, seem to have been the inevitable result of a clash of cultures. Certainly the British did exploit India economically, but Indian rulers had exploited their populations for centuries without rousing the people to revolt. When the British had first arrived in India, they had shown a lot of respect for native customs and culture, but, over time, muscular Christianity and the growing self-confidence of the British in their natural “right to rule” led to increasing contempt for the Indian way of life. Even what the British saw as positive steps, such as the banning of suttee (widow burning), were resented when they showed contempt for ancient customs.
John Williamson seemed the ideal person to tell this story. Although he was part of the machinery of Empire, he was himself an outsider. His homosexuality and his working class origins meant that he was never truly comfortable with the men who ruled India. In fact, his only true friend was an Indian, a prince in the court of Nana Sahib, the man who would eventually lead the Indians at the massacre of Cawnpore. Williamson therefore sees both sides of the conflict, sympathising with each in turn, desperate to stop the killing but, in the end, doomed to see the tragedy unfold without being able to prevent the atrocities of Indians and Europeans.

It’s not a cheerful book, but it’s my personal favourite. Although most of the characters are real people and the events follow very closely on the historical facts, the story really centres on Williamson. We see India and the events of the Mutiny through his eyes and I felt I grew to know him much better. It’s also an amazing story, for which I can take very little credit, because the story is the one history wrote for me. The Indian Mutiny was a war where the personalities of individual leaders made a huge difference to the outcome. People decided on their loyalties based as much on their evaluation of the personal worth of the protagonists as on race or creed. It was a time of deeds of great military valour and courage and, on both sides, a time of appalling cruelty and mass killings. It was, indeed, a clash of civilisations. It ended the rule of the East India Company, which had run India as a private fiefdom, and initiated the period of Imperial rule and the Raj. It also, though no one could have known it at the time, started India on the road to eventual independence and the end of the princely states. It is one of the great stories of the 19th century and, with Cawnpore I’ve tried to capture something of that story.
I hope you read it. Let me know what you think of it.

Important bit

Here’s the buy link. (I nearly forgot.)

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

'Tipping Point' by Terry Tyler

War, they say, is 98% boredom and 2% terror. I suspect that the end of the world, when it comes, will be much the same. This can pose a bit of a problem for a dystopian novelist.

Terry Tyler's Tipping Point draws together several contemporary issues to make a worryingly convincing scenario for the end of the world. The population is growing out of control. The government builds up dossiers on people by spying on their social media feeds. When a virus is deliberately released in Britain, the poor, the unemployed, the sick, immigrants and political troublemakers are left to die, while useful citizens are vaccinated and survive.

That's the plan, anyway. Almost inevitably, the plan goes wrong. The virus makes its way into the population before the vaccinations are completed and a pandemic more or less wipes out the population of Britain. There are suggestions it's rampaging across the world, but with no communications, no TV, no Internet, nobody is really sure what's going on anywhere.

Tipping Point follows the lives of a few of the survivors as they make their way through a landscape of burned-out villages, looted shopping centres, and abandoned towns. Everybody has to come to terms with the reality of life without electricity or running water. People band together and arm themselves in a world where order has broken down and the strong take what they can from the weak.

There are some nice touches. The whole thing, it is suggested, was an American plot. The virus was first released in Britain, with British government consent, because the islands provide a convenient area for a field test. (That seems to nail the special relationship more accurately than many more overtly satirical books.) There is the social media app that has been set up to guarantee your privacy that is owned and run by the government who access all of it. The plan eliminates the intellectual and scientific classes as well as the poor and useless because, as one character conveniently explains, “We want the worker bees. Mr and Mrs Average, of commonplace intelligence, who – if they ever stopped to think about it, which they don't – know that society works best when the masses take direction from the few, without question, and everybody knows their place.”

The main insight, though, is that life after the apocalypse is, once you have survived the immediate conflagration, extraordinarily dreary. Survivors raid toy shops for board games, unable to play on their computers. With no TV or video, they are reduced to reading – and reading real books, rather than Kindles.

Anybody who has read Terry Tyler's Twitter feed will know that she is a big fan of The Walking Dead and Tipping Point sets us up nicely for the zombie apocalypse (people even refer to it in conversation) except that there are no zombies. The result is that, despite a large cast of characters – nicely defined and easily kept track of – there is really not a lot happening.

Terry Tyler writes very readable and pleasant prose, which makes it easy to carry on despite a lack of incident. When exciting things do happen (escaping through a checkpoint, fleeing a would-be rapist) the story rattles along and the underlying ideas are genuinely interesting, but every 50 pages or so I find myself agreeing with the characters that life after the apocalypse is really, really dull.

The book is the first of a trilogy and by the end of Book 1 different characters – the good, the bad, the ditzy and the borderline psychopathic – have all independently decided to flee to Lindisfarne. It wouldn't be my choice of refuge, but I'm not writing the book. Volume 2 may well see more incident. But in the end, there's not that much that can happen. Most people are dead and those who are left are battling to cope with the day-to-day business of survival. It’s 98% boredom and, though Terry Tyler’s writing isn’t boring, I can’t help wishing there were zombies …

Friday, 2 March 2018

‘The White Rajah’ – new and improved!

The White Rajah was the first book I wrote. Naturally, it has always been my darling – first-borns are like that. But, as with most first novels, it’s unlikely that it’s my best work. This has always worried me. Although The White Rajah was originally conceived of as a stand-alone novel, it ended up being the first of three books narrated by the fictional John Williamson. When people asked me which books they should read first, I always wanted to say Cawnpore or Back Home, both of which were better reviewed and which, I think, were better books. But surely it would be best to start at the beginning with The White Rajah? Except that they might end up being put off the series.
Endeavour are now in the process of republishing all three books. Cawnpore and Back Home are unchanged from the editions published by Accent, but I asked for the chance to make changes to The White Rajah.
When I sat down to read it again for the first time in years, I was nervous. I thought it was going to be an embarrassing experience and that I was now committed to months of rewriting. To my surprise and delight, I found myself really enjoying it. By now, with the trilogy completed, I knew what the book was really about. Because I write fiction that is very closely tied in with historical facts, I have to plot my books very carefully and, because all this was new to me when I started The White Rajah I remember writing a very detailed plot outline before I started. Back then, though, I didn’t even realise that John Williamson was the most important character in the story. I thought it was a story about James Brooke, the White Rajah of the title and a real person.
It’s odd that you can write a book and only afterwards realise what it was about. Rereading it I was able to move the focus at some key points onto Williamson and show how his experiences with James Brooke shaped the man he was going to become in the next two volumes. I was pleased to realise that these changes didn’t take months after all. The basic structure of the plot still worked – it seemed only to need tweaking here and there.
It’s still not the Great British Novel that I wanted to write – what first novel ever is? (All right – I can think of several, but you don’t have to rub it in.) But it is no longer a book that I feel uncomfortable recommending. Some people have given it quite remarkably lovely reviews and I’m happy to recommend anyone interested in John Williamson’s adventures to start here at the beginning.
The young John Williamson meets James Brooke in a London tavern. He’s poor, not long out of Devon with little experience of the world. He can neither read nor write and he is nervous of those he sees as his social betters. From that meeting he sets out on a journey that will take him half way round the world, only to end up back home in Devon, a vastly different person from the young lad we met at the start of The White Rajah. It’s a journey that has him meeting head-hunters in Borneo and a rebel prince in India. Along the way he faces horror and loss and has to come to terms with the things that set him apart from the men he lives and works with before he returns to England and, in a London slum, finds the possibility of some sort of salvation.
I grew very fond of John Williamson. With the new edition of The White Rajah, I hope you will get the chance to grow fond of him too.


Because, as is well-known, if anything can go wrong, it will, the changes I had lovingly made to The White Rajah failed to make it into what actually appeared on Kindle a couple of weeks ago. It’s right now, and if you bought yours as soon as it was released, it should be automatically updated if you download it (free) again. Just sign in to Amazon, go to Manage my Kindle, find the book file and then download the updated version.