Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Monday, 28 March 2016

March reading

I'm on Chapter Fifteen of Slow Death by Quicksilver, and a day behind due to various complexities over the Easter weekend which I might allude to in future (don't, is my advice, look for adders in the rain). Anyway, that's about 3/5 of the way, and the plot is looking a bit like a plot, so I should be grateful!

This month’s reads have included the latest work from Michael Brookes, horror, science fiction and fantasy author (these are genres I dip into so though I’m aware there are complex subdivisions, I’m probably trampling over them here!). Michael is on his second trilogy besides stand-alone books, as well as being a thoroughly active short story writer, reviewer and blogger at thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk The intriguingly titled

comes from his first trilogy.

A mystical and chilling book, almost in two parts as the style changes from one half to the other in impressive fashion. It’s reminiscent of the better kind of Dan Brown (i.e. not written by Dan Brown) novel, but also shows strong Lovecraftian influences. Here’s the blurb:

Stealing Lazarus’s miracle gifted him immortality. Combined with his natural ability of invading and controlling people’s minds this made him one of the most dangerous people on Earth. But the miracle came with a price. His punishment was to be imprisoned within the walls of an ancient monastery and tormented by an invisible fire that burned his body perpetually. To escape the pain he retreated deep into his own mind. There he discovers the truth of the universe and that only he can stop the coming Apocalypse.

Faust 2.0 is the first in the Mitchell & Morton series
‘A new entity is born into the internet.

Is it the rebirth of an ancient evil in a new realm? Or something much worse?

A sexy looking avatar grants wishes for people across the web, but nothing is truly free, and for those who accept, what price must be paid?

Sarah Mitchell must discover the truth of this creature and stop it while it can still be stopped, but why is a mysterious lawyer dogging her every step?’

A modern day multiple Faust, for after all demons have access to the Internet, too. Conspiracy theorists and paranoid readers will have lots to frighten them here! The ending is tantalising and I hope we're going to see more of the poor heroine, even though that will likely mean she will have to suffer even more.

I particularly enjoyed the pace of this book, for the suspense seemed to come in waves rather than constantly increasing.


This is the second in the series featuring the mysterious lawyer Morton and the ex-agent Sarah Mitchell. Resourceful and intelligent, she is a prisoner after the events of Book 1, the plan that she will give up all the information she has about the elusive Misty Felice. Dan, meanwhile, the subterranean computer geek of the first book is now working to analyse the Church of Virtual Saints, an enigmatic body with impressive computing powers. Complex and thoughtful, the plot examines not only the idea that dark powers might take over the world wide web for their own purposes, but the nature of being and faith themselves. My favourite so far.

This month's crime author is fellow St. Andrews graduate, Shirley McKay. Like Michael, she has a very active and interesting website and a strong series featuring the sixteenth century academic detective Hew Cullan, an appealing chap who is, yes, a St. Andrews graduate too. Shirley and I have had one or two conversations about the curious coincidences between our books and I understand that she has been thinking of a book set in Georgian Edinburgh!
The first in the series is Hue & Cry:
'1579, St. Andrews. A thirteen-year old boy meets his death on the streets of the university city of St. Andrews and suspicion falls upon one of the regents at the university, Nicholas Colp. Hew Cullan, a young lawyer recently returned home from Paris, uncovers a complex tale of passion and duplicity, of sexual desire in tension with the repressive atmosphere of the Protestant Kirk and the austerity of the academic cloister.'
Terrific book. The St. Andrews setting helped get me on side from the start but the writing was lovely, the plot pleasantly convoluted and the characterisation good. Excellent historical setting, very strong. I sat down and read it in a day - delicious luxury these days but well worth it!                  
'The year is 1581, and the young St Andrews academic Hew Cullan is unhappy with his life and disillusioned with the law. After his father's death he is invited by the advocate Richard Cunningham to complete his legal education in Edinburgh as Richard's pupil at the bar. Among his father's things Hew finds a manuscript entitled 'In Defence of the Law', directed to the Edinburgh printer, Christian Hall. At first, he resists its influence, but when a young girl is found dead on the beach at St Andrews, he is left unsettled and confused. He resolves to take the book to press and agrees to Richard's offer. Embarking on his new life in the capital, he falls in love. His relationships are fraught with lies and secrets and lead to brutal murder on the borough muir. Hew suspects a link with the dead girl on the beach. As he begins his desperate search to find the killer, he finds that the truth lies closer to home.'
Excellent again. Knew who had 'dunnit' from early on but wanted to see why. The setting is superb, the research thorough but lightly carried. Bring on the next one! 
'1582, St Andrews. In the swell of a storm, a ship is wrecked in St Andrews harbour. A young Flemish sailor, the last man aboard, collapses and dies at the inn. The cargo of the ship appears a welcome windfall but soon brings devastation to the town as petty squabbling turns to rage and tragedy. Hew traces the ship to its source in Ghent, where he uncovers a strange secret. Unwilling to allow the law to take its course, he returns once more to the bitter role of advocate, to find his deepest principles are tested to the core.'
I found this one particularly interesting and pleasantly domestic, away from some of the high-politicking of the others in the series. The settings were convincing and the technical detail fascinating.
'St Andrews, 1583. The young king James VI is confined at Falkland palace, plotting his escape. Dissension rages between Kirk and Crown, the king and his 'lord enterprisers', and between the separate factions of the church. In St Andrews Castle, a bishop in decline plays out his darkest fantasies, while Hew and his friend Giles investigate the true source of his sickness, uncovering corruption at its heart. The death of a young soldier, implicating Hew's sister and Giles's wife Meg, leads Hew to an astonishing discovery, and towards his blackest hour, his fortunes inextricable from those of James himself. Real historical figures interwoven in this fantastical tale are James VI, the bastard son of James V, spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham and Alison Pearson who was executed for witchcraft in 1588.'
A more complex plot and it was not obvious where we were going with this one until much further in, though as usual the historical detail and well-drawn characters make the ride an easy one. The language seemed somehow richer than usual, too, making it less of a headlong read and more one to savour.                  
Queen & Country is the latest in the series, and jumps forward several years in Hew Cullan's life - looking forward to it!


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