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#Bookreview THE PHANTOM IN THE FOG: A BOWMAN OF THE YARD INVESTIGATION by Richard James (@RichardNJames). This historical mystery series keeps getting better and better #mystery #historicalfiction

Hi all:

I think this series will probably be familiar to many of you. I’m a big fan.

The Phantom in the Fog: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation by Richard James

Bowman of the Yard: Book Four

‘Wonderfully atmospheric, full of the thrills of Victorian London.’ Adam Croft

Autumn, 1892

Following a manic episode, Detective Inspector George Bowman recovers in Colney Hatch lunatic asylum. He is surprised when Elizabeth Morley, an acquaintance who had sought to offer him comfort following the death of his wife, pays an unexpected visit with news of an intriguing case.

A mythical figure – christened Jumping Jack by the salacious press – has returned to the streets of London, leaving a trail of death in his wake.

Bowman calls upon Sergeant Graves to act as his agent in the outside world, resulting in his erstwhile companion being subjected to the wrath of Graves’ new superior, the recently promoted Detective Superintendent Callaghan.

Graves is taken off the investigation and ordered to look into an issue of fraud at The Royal Armitage Bank. As his enquiries continue, however, it becomes clear the two cases may be linked.

As the killer strikes again and the citizens of London grow convinced they are in the grip of a supernatural force, Inspector Bowman must rely upon what’s left of his wits, an improvised map of London on his bedside wall and the memory of an investigation from his days as a detective sergeant.

Does a series of crimes from a decade ago hold the key to the current atrocities being committed in the fogbound streets of London?

Bowman must solve the crime from his hospital ward to enable his colleagues to confront the killer among them.

https://www.amazon.com/Phantom-Fog-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08L98P2J3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phantom-Fog-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08L98P2J3/

https://www.amazon.es/Phantom-Fog-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08L98P2J3/

Picture of author Richard James
Author Richard James

About the author:

I’ve been telling stories all my life. As an actor I’ve spent a career telling other people’s, from William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens. As I writer, I get to create my own!

I have written almost thirty plays which are produced the world over; from USA to New Zealand and just about everywhere in between. They’re mostly comedies and frequently win awards in competitions and festivals.

In 2014 I wrote a memoir, Space Precinct Unmasked, detailing my experiences working as an actor on Gerry Anderson’s last live action sci-fi series. This was followed by an adaptation of the unscreened pilot episode, Demeter City, and four new short stories featuring the officers of Precinct 88, Space Precinct: Revisited.

As to my own series, I decided I wanted to write a sequence of books set in a world I would want to spend time in and featuring characters I would want to be with. Most importantly, it would have to feature a grisly murder or two! I love the Victorian era. It seems such a rich period of history, populated by some hugely colourful characters, so that is where we first meet Detective Inspector George Bowman.

The Head In The Ice is the first in the Bowman Of The Yard series and follows Bowman’s investigation into the discovery of – well, a head in the ice of the River Thames. Over the course of the book, however, and throughout the series in general, we see he has demons of his own to contend with.

There are four books in the Bowman Of The Yard series in all, together with some short stories from Bowman’s Casebook. These have been collected into two volumes and fill in the gaps between the novels, giving the reader the chance to follow Bowman’s professional progress and personal battles (he’s a troubled man, as you’ll see) over twelve months of his life.

‘A masterful new Victorian mystery series.’ Rosie Amber books
‘A genuinely impressive debut.’ Andrew Cartmel
‘Full of the thrills of Victorian London.’ Adam Croft

I really hope you like the books. If you do, you can tweet me your thoughts at @RichardNJames. I hope to hear from you!

Richard James
2019

https://www.amazon.com/Richard-James/e/B00NHSS6H6/

My review:

I received an early ARC copy of this novel, and I freely chose to review it.

I have read and reviewed the three previous novels in the series (The Head in the Ice, The Devil in the Dock, and The Body in the Trees) and this is one of a handful of series I follow and have no hesitation in recommending. I’d be pushed to choose between all the novels in the series, but right now, I’d say this is perhaps my favourite. As is the case with the rest, I think this novel could be read as a standalone, because the story is independent and resolved within this volume, and there is enough background information to quickly get a sense of who the main characters are and where they come from, although for those of us who have been following the series, there is the added joy of meeting again some secondary characters we had come across before, and also of catching up on what had happened to the Inspector Bowman and his colleagues (and friends).

The description provides plenty of information about what happens in the book, and I don’t want to reveal too much. Inspector Bowman is an inmate at the lunatic asylum, and the novel offers us an insight view of what the experience might have been like (as with the other books, the novel is narrated in the third person from an omniscient point of view that focuses on different characters as the story progresses, mostly those of Bowman, Graves, and Hicks, although we are also privy to the thoughts and feelings of some of the minor characters at times), sharing in some of the more enlightened and novel aspects psychiatry had to offer at the time. As a psychiatrist, I was enthralled by the French ‘alienist’ called in to look into Bowman’s illness and particularly enjoyed the description of his application of Galvani’s ideas (an early form of electroconvulsive therapy or electroshock) to try to help Bowman. Although I have a personal interest in that aspect of the story, I’m pretty sure most people will be intrigued by it as well. (And don’t worry; we aren’t in Someone Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s territory. What happens is much more akin to my own professional experience of the treatment).

I loved the fact that, through Bowman’s recollections of a past case (thanks to the treatment), we get to learn a bit more about his late wife and how they met. Bowman’s acumen and the way he manages to make connections and work out a vital piece of information about the case his colleagues are working on at Scotland Yard, even in his difficult circumstances, make for a thrilling reading experience. The vivid description of the locations and events has a cinematic quality that has long been one of the strengths of this series.

There are several murders, although that is not evident at first, nor is the connection between the cases, and because Bowman is away, we get to see more of Graves (a good man as well as a thorough and sharp detective), Hicks (a flawed character who’d do almost anything for a quiet and comfortable life, although not intentionally dishonest), and their now boss, Callahan, who seems intent on keeping Graves investigating a fraud case rather than getting involved in the murders. I enjoyed seeing more of the inside workings of the Yard, getting to see Graves in action and how he tries to keep the balance between following orders and doing what he feels is right, and, as usual, I enjoyed the way the author seamlessly introduces information and details about life in London at the time. We get to visit a big newspaper’s archive, we learn some things about London we might never have heard of, and we also have a very mysterious baddie with a touch of the supernatural. Best of all, on a note at the end of the book, the author explains that the inspiration for the mysterious character was a real (?) criminal of Victorian London who was never caught (and although it was a Jack, it wasn’t ‘that’ Jack).

The mystery side of the story worked well for me, with its combination of the fraud story (frauds and con games are not new, that’s for sure) and the murders, and although I guessed some aspects of it, there were enough twists, red herrings, and inside politics to keep me engaged in the story and completely wrapped up in the investigation. I enjoyed the resolution of the case, which cranked up the tension, and the novel ends on a positive and happy note this time (mostly happy at least), a total winner for me. I also liked our insight into some of the side-characters, and the way we experience the era through the character’s senses: we smell, hear, see, taste, and feel London, in all its drabness and splendour.

There was nothing I disliked from the book, although readers who prefer a single point of view might want to check a sample before making a decision. As I have explained in my previous reviews, I think the author’s choice of narrative style works very well for the books, and I don’t find it confusing, but we are all different.

The series is not gruesome or gore in the extreme, but it is realistic in its depiction of the era and the crimes, so I wouldn’t recommend it to people who prefer a gentle and light read. It is a Victorian police procedural/mystery that will satisfy both, lovers of mystery and those keen on historical fiction, as readers get the best of both worlds. I cannot recommend this novel and the rest of the series highly enough. I’m eagerly waiting to hear what will be next for Bowman and his team.

Thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, first of all, and to like, share, comment, review, and always keep smiling.

 

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#Bookreview FOOLS AND MORTALS: A NOVEL by Bernard Cornwell (@BernardCornwell) (@HarperCollinsUK) A book for lovers of theatre, and Elizabethan historical fiction #amreading

Hi all:
Once more I’m catching up on a very popular author that for unknown reasons I had not read until now. And as I seem to be reading a lot of historical fiction at the moment, it was about time too.
As a theatre lover, I really enjoyed this book.

Fools and Mortals: A Novel by Bernard Cornwell
Fools and Mortals: A Novel by Bernard Cornwell

Fools and Mortals: A Novel by Bernard Cornwell

New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell makes a dramatic departure with this enthralling, action-packed standalone novel that tells the story of the first production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—as related by William Shakespeare’s estranged younger brother.

Lord, what fools these mortals be . . .

In the heart of Elizabethan England, Richard Shakespeare dreams of a glittering career in one of the London playhouses, a world dominated by his older brother, William. But he is a penniless actor, making ends meet through a combination of a beautiful face, petty theft and a silver tongue. As William’s star rises, Richard’s onetime gratitude is souring and he is sorely tempted to abandon family loyalty.

So when a priceless manuscript goes missing, suspicion falls upon Richard, forcing him onto a perilous path through a bawdy and frequently brutal London. Entangled in a high-stakes game of duplicity and betrayal which threatens not only his career and potential fortune, but also the lives of his fellow players, Richard has to call on all he has now learned from the brightest stages and the darkest alleyways of the city. To avoid the gallows, he must play the part of a lifetime . . . .

Showcasing the superb storytelling skill that has won Bernard Cornwell international renown, Fools and Mortals is a richly portrayed tour de force that brings to life a vivid world of intricate stagecraft, fierce competition, and consuming ambition.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Fools-Mortals-Novel-Bernard-Cornwell/dp/0062250876/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fools-Mortals-Bernard-Cornwell-ebook/dp/B06XGHX1NW/

Editorial Reviews

‘Cornwell not only succeeds in creating an engaging story, but also in celebrating the difficulties and delights, at any time in history, of putting on a show.’ THE SUNDAY TIMES

‘Cornwell leads us effortlessly through palaces and playhouses with the skill of a master storyteller who loves this period of history.’ DAILY EXPRESS

‘With all the vivid history that is his trademark, Bernard Cornwell transports the readers to the playhouses, backstreets and palaces of Shakespeare’s London with added depth and compassion, and a likeable hero.’ Philippa Gregory

‘Story and characters crackle off the page as do the stink and violence of Elizabethan London. The author of the Sharpe and Last Kingdom bestsellers has pulled off a surprise for his readers ― and a terrific one at that.’ Elizabeth Buchan, DAILY MAIL

The Times Saturday Review Book of the Month

‘Cornwell is an enthusiastic amateur dramatist. His portrayal of the actors’ rivalries and superstitions is sharp and often funny. His combination of wit, adventure and deft characterisation is a triumphant departure from his usual territory.’ THE TIMES

Praise for Bernard Cornwell:

‘Like Game of Thrones, but real’ OBSERVER

‘Blood, divided loyalties and thundering battles’ THE TIMES

‘Strong narrative, vigourous action and striking characterisation, Cornwell remains king of the territory he has staked out as his own’ SUNDAY TIMES

‘A violent, absorbing historical saga, deeply researched and thoroughly imagined’ WASHINGTON POST

‘The best battle scenes of any writer I’ve ever read, past or present. Cornwell really makes history come alive’ George R.R. Martin

‘Cornwell draws a fascinating picture of England as it might have been before anything like England existed’ THE TIMES

‘He’s called a master storyteller. Really he’s cleverer than that’ TELEGRAPH

‘A reminder of just how good a writer he is’ SUNDAY TIMES

‘Nobody in the world does this better than Cornwell’ Lee Child

Author Bernard Cornwell
Author Bernard Cornwell

About the author:

Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 – a ‘warbaby’ – whose father was a Canadian airman and mother in Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect called the Peculiar People (and they were), but escaped to London University and, after a stint as a teacher, he joined BBC Television where he worked for the next 10 years. He began as a researcher on the Nationwide programme and ended as Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland. It was while working in Belfast that he met Judy, a visiting American, and fell in love. Judy was unable to move to Britain for family reasons so Bernard went to the States where he was refused a Green Card. He decided to earn a living by writing, a job that did not need a permit from the US government – and for some years he had been wanting to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars – and so the Sharpe series was born. Bernard and Judy married in 1980, are still married, still live in the States and he is still writing Sharpe.

https://www.amazon.com/Bernard-Cornwell/e/B000APAB68/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I had not read any of Bernard Cornwell’s novels before (I believe I have another one on my list and I’ll definitely check it out after this one) so I won’t be able to provide any comparison with the rest of his work. When I read some of the reviews, I noticed that some readers felt this novel was less dynamic than the rest and lacked in action. I cannot comment, although it is true that the novel is set in Elizabethan London and its events take place over a few months, rather than it being a long and sprawling narrative, ambitious in scope and detail. If anything, it is a pretty modest undertaking, as it follows the rehearsal and staging of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The author’s note at the end clarifies much of the historical background, explaining what is based on fact and what on fancy, and also the liberties he has taken with the materials.

The story is told, in the first-person, by Richard Shakespeare, William’s younger (and prettier, as everybody reminds him) brother, who is also an actor (mostly playing women’s parts) and plays in his brother’s company, but he’s not a regular player in it. I am no expert on Shakespeare (although I know his plays, some better than others, and have read a bit about him) but checked and now know that although he had a brother called Richard, it seems he never left Strafford, whilst a younger brother called Edmund went to London to join his brother and was an actor. The Richard of the novel is no match for his brother and they do not like each other too well. Throughout the book, we learn about Richard, whose current adventures are peppered with memories of the past and his circumstances. His character lives hand-to-mouth, is always in debt, and illustrates how difficult life was at the time for youngsters without money and/or a family fortune. Although he does not dwell on the abuse he has suffered, modern readers will quickly realise that some things don’t change and children have always been preyed upon. He is a likeable enough character, and although he does some bad things (he was taught how to be a thief by a character who would have been perfectly at home in a Dickensian novel and is fairly skilled at it), there are things he will not do, and he is loyal to his brother, although sometimes William does not seem to deserve it. There are other interesting characters in the book (I particularly liked Sylvia, Richard’s love interest, and the priest who lives in the same house as Richard), but none are drawn in much psychological detail.

What the book does very well, in my opinion, is portray the London of the time, the political and religious intrigues (the Puritans trying to close the playhouses, the religious persecution and how an accusation could be used to implement vendettas and acquire power, the social mores of the times, the workings of taverns and inns, the river Thames as a thoroughfare, the law in and out of the walls of the city…), and particularly, the workings of a theatre company of the time. The different types of audiences and theatres, how they had to accommodate their performances to the setting and follow the indications of their patrons, the process of rehearsal, and details such as the building of a playhouse and its distribution, the staging of a play, the costumes they wore, their makeup, wigs… The book also uses fragments of Shakespeare’s plays and others of the period (and some invented too), and brings to life real actors of the era, creating a realistic feeling of what life on stage (and behind it) must have been like at the time. If you are wondering about William Shakespeare… Well, he is there, and we get to see him in action and also from his brother’s point of view. He appears as an author, an actor, a manager, and a man, but if any readers come to this book expecting new insights into Shakespeare, I’m afraid that is not what the novel is about.

There is a fair amount of telling (it is difficult to avoid in historical fiction), and plenty of historically appropriate words and expressions, although the language is easy to follow. There is also plenty of showing, and we get to share in the cold, the stink, the fear, and the pain the main character suffers. We also get to live the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it is glorious. In the second half of the book, things come to a head, and there are a few fights (fist fights, sword fighting, and even a pistol is discharged), romance, intrigue (although we are pretty convinced of how everything will end), and nice touches that Shakespeare lovers will appreciate (yes, there’s even a bear).

A solid historical novel, well-written, that flows well, placing us right in the middle of the late Elizabethan era, and making us exceptional witnesses of the birth of modern theatre. A must-read for lovers of theatre, especially classical theatre, Shakespeare, and historical fiction of the Elizabethan period. I will be sure to read more of Cornwell’s books in the future.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publishers, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

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