Tuesday, June 09, 2009


A relatively short but utterly fascinating account of the coming of Christianity to Ireland and the subsequent spread across Europe of Irish and Irish-educated monks and nuns during the Middle Ages. The title refers to the fact that the fall of the Roman Empire wiped out many libraries and even literacy itself and that, without the Irish monastaries, even more would have been lost forever. I absolutely fell in love with this book and have been talking up the Irish ever since.

This third novel with P.I. Jackson Brodie hinges on a series of odd links. As a child thirty years ago Joanna Mason was the only survivor of a knife attack by Andrew Decker. Now he's been released from prison. Jackson, after boarding the wrong train, winds up in Scotland in a train crash that nearly kills him. He's saved by 16-year-old Regina Chase, who nannies for Joanna Mason's baby son. And in the hospital, Brodie discovers that he has the wallet of paroled killer Andrew Decker in his pocket. Now Joanna and her baby are missing, no one can find Decker, and Detective Louise Munroe is confronted with Brodie at a time when her new marriage is crumbling. I loved the multiple storylines and characters--except for Louise. I just couldn't stand her in this outing. I hope she gets over her fits of self-righteousness before the next book.

There have been several "Bloody Sundays" in Irish history. This book recounts the one in 1920, when Michael Collins' agents simultaneously assassinated 19 British spies in Ireland and broke the back of England's intelligence service. Within a year, Collins had a treaty and the Republic of Ireland was born. This book was a little dry, but gives excellent background on the final push to Irish nationhood, including the Easter Rising of 1916.

The third Matthew Shardlake mystery, set in the reign of Henry VIII. In this outing, Matthew is asked to travel to York where the king is set to visit just five years after a Northern rebellion. His job is to make sure a recently-arrested traitor makes it back to London for questioning. But then a glazier falls to his death and Matthew finds himself in the center of a mystery that stretches back to Richard III and may shake the throne of England. The great strength of this series is its ability to make me feel that I am there, in Tudor England, in all its grandeur and misery.

DUBLINERS/James Joyce/A-
I picked up, fittingly, in Dublin, this collection of short stories by one of Ireland's most famous writers. Joyce is an acquired taste and not entirely mine, but I found these stories compelling in spite of the overall sense of melancholy. Araby is in here, a story that many read in English classes.

THE YEAR OF WONDERS/Geraldine Brooks/B+
Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (for MARCH) writes about a 17th-century English village and its infection by the plague. They have a choice: run and spread the plague with them, or stay and contain it? Due to the charismatic nature of the village pastor and his beloved wife, the village seals itself off for one years. As people die, brutally and often, relationships change. The story is told by Anna Frith, a young widow who works for the pastor and helps his wife tend to the sick and dying. Nothing is as it seems in this book, especially the people. I did not like the ending, but otherwise it was a remarkably fine story.

In the 12th-century England of Henry II, four Christian children have been mutilated and killed in Cambridge. The Jews of the town stand accused. Enter Adelia, a trained physician and coroner from Salerno who Henry wants to read the secrets of the dead children and clear the Jews of the charges. Adelia hates England--especially having to hide her training from people who would burn her as a witch--but the case takes a personal turn and when royalty is involved, personal choice rarely enters into it. A strong beginning to a new historical mystery series.

Follow-up to her first novel, WICKED LOVELY, this urban fantasy returns to Aislinn who has now taken her place as Summer Queen. But she's finding it hard to balance her human boyfriend, Seth, with her duties to Keenan, her Summer King. And the pull isn't all professional--as summer warms, the temptation to be everything Keenan wants grows stronger. And as conflict threatens to become war, even Sorcha, Queen of the High Court, is taking an interest . . . in Seth. Quick read, the story worth overlooking the occasionally labored writing.

The return of Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. Sigh of pleasure. I liked this one better than the previous two, which took place outside England and with long sections from Holmes' point of view. This book sticks almost entirely to Mary and is set firmly in England (except for the end, which takes place on a Scottish island). Holmes is asked by a Bohemian artist to investigate the disappearance of his wife and 3-year-old child. It's a request Holmes, for personal reasons, cannot refuse. But those same reasons make it hard for him to be objective. So Mary has the uncomfortable task of sifting facts her husband won't. A wonderful mix of Bohemians and dangerous cults and early airplane pilots, with the voice that only Mary Russell has. I just hope the next book doesn't take too many years to be written.


Jess said...

Have you read "How the Scots Invented Western Civilization"? I bet you'd like it. Unfortunately I can't remember the author and my MIL borrowed it so it's not on my shelf.

Anonymous said...

Did you pick up a bit of an Irish obsession somewhere? From your discription of the first book, I suspect you can answer a question I have about languages in the 14th centurey. I'll ask later.

I started to read FE, but put it down in favor of a very poorly written book "Excalibur" by Sanders Laubenthal. It's so bad it's funny and a must for me right now.

Ginger said...

Hmmmm, sensing a bit 'o' theme goin' on here. "Remarkably fine." That is one of my new favorite phrases.