Two Tudor Plots

Steve Berry’s The Tudor Plot is a novella, and a prequel to The King’s Deception, short and entertaining. It almost slides over to the science fiction shelf, because its alternate timeline is so clear. Berry’s American set thrillers have fictional Presidents and Senators The Tudor Plot(which sounds to me like a pretty good idea right now), but we expect that in a political suspense novel. In fact, that’s pretty much a necessity. But the contemporary thriller story line in The Tudor Plot features an entirely alternate British Royal Family, headed by Victoria II, the fourth monarch of the Saxe-Coburg line, who succeeded her father, Edward VIII (who never abdicated, apparently willing and able to rule without the support of his American divorcee). Her Duke of Edinburgh, James, is an actual Scot, and they have tempted fate, unhappily, by naming their children Richard and Eleanor (poor choices on Victoria’s part, good ones on Berry’s). All four of these people are important characters in the story. A plot to disrupt and replace the succession echoes the Tudor replacement of the Plantagenet rulers (which I probably wouldn’t have appreciated as much if I hadn’t just read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time), while the historical story line follows attempts to establish the real existence (and resting place) of the legendary King Arthur in hopes of strengthening the modern monarchy. The connection between contemporary and historical is a little more tenuous than is usual in Berry’s full-length novels, but I enjoyed it.

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I’m sure I read all of Josephine Tey’s mysteries (not that she wrote many) decades ago. When I saw The Daughter of Time on one of the ebook sale emails recently I decided to see if it was as good as its reputation (and as I vaguely remembered). It is, especially for a history geek like me.

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Tey’s detective, Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, is facing weeks in hospital, flat on his back, The Daughter of Timewith a broken leg and a back injury of some unspecified sort (apparently this was possible back around 1950, with no worries about the resulting bill, either). A visiting friend brings him a stack of pictures, including one of Richard III, and Grant whiles away the rest of his stay investigating (with the help of a young American researcher in need of an excuse for hanging out at the British Museum) a very old cold case, the fate of the Princes in the Tower.

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I found the book, and the investigation, fascinating. Tey makes a very good case for Grant’s eventual theories, but what really struck a chord with me was his discussions of various historical “events” that actually never happened, at least not in the form that everyone thinks they did. His examples are largely from bits of English history I know little about (a riot in Wales, remembered as a massacre, in which no one was killed; “martyrs” who not only didn’t die for their faith, but didn’t die at all; vicious religious zealots remembered as heroes). Aha, I thought: Alternative Facts! Not a new concept at all.

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The Daughter of Time was voted Number One of the Best Crime Novels of All Time by the British Crime Writers Association in 1990, rather remarkable for such a non-traditional mystery. Very much worth reading. I may have to rediscover more of Tey’s work.

Suspense!

What’s a novel without suspense? Well, probably boring. All fiction, and for that matter the more readable sorts of non-fiction, need suspense. But not all novels are marketed with suspense as a main sales point. Here are two romantic suspense novels and one thriller that I’ve enjoyed recently.

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Years ago, when New York publishers ruled the romance world, we were told never to Tinderboxwrite stories about archaeologists. Turns out that’s no longer true, as Rachel Grant has proved with her romantic suspense novels featuring archaeologist heroines. The latest of these is Tinderbox (the first in a new Flashpoint series), set in the desert heat of Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. Dr. Morgan Adler has made an immensely important find while surveying possible routes for a railroad that will allow a U.S. Naval Base to expand, but someone clearly doesn’t want her dig to continue. Sgt. Pax Blanchard is the Special Forces man assigned to protect her after someone rigs her car with a bomb. The two fall hard, against their better judgment. Morgan is the rebellious daughter of a general, and Pax is just the sort of son-in-law Daddy would want, making him off limits to Morgan. And Pax was once married to an officer’s daughter—never again! As the action and the dangers heat up, so does the attraction between Morgan and Pax, until their romance is almost as dangerous as the threats to Morgan.

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I hadn’t read anything by Jayne Ann Krentz (or her alter egos Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle) recently, but when I learned she was coming to Houston for a book signing and dinner with a group of local writers, I picked up her romantic suspense from last year, When All the Girls Have GoneWhen All the Girls Have Gone, which I enjoyed. The two main characters, Charlotte Sawyer and Max Cutler, meet when the murder Max, a one-time profiler now trying to get a P.I. business off the ground, intersects with the apparent disappearance of Charlotte’s stepsister Jocelyn, the murder victim’s close friend. Charlotte and Max solve the mystery, of course, and, well, it is romantic suspense. Max does have a mystery of his own left unsolved, involving a childhood trauma shared by his two foster brothers, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that the next JAK suspense novel, Promise Not To Tell, will feature one of Max’s brothers and continue that story. I’ll be watching for it in January.

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The book signing was for Jayne’s Amanda Quick persona’s new book, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, a mystery set in southern California in the 1930s, a big change from Victorian London. That one’s waiting on the To Be Read Really Soon shelf above my bed.

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I’ve been a fan of Steve Berry’s novels since his first, The Amber Room. He’s written more than a dozen since then, and I have them all on my shelves, but I’ve fallen way The King's Deceptionbehind, and I’ve just read The King’s Deception, published in 2013. (I will catch up. Somehow. Someday.) Berry is not exactly a prose stylist (although who am I to criticize an author with his track record?) but he is one heck of a story teller, and I find his elaborately constructed and all too plausible historical mysteries/conspiracies irresistable. The historical elements in The King’s Deception date back to the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, at first appearing to be simply the search for a lost treasure, but turning out to be so much more. The modern action also involves the release of the terrorist who blew up Pan Am 103 over Scotland. Cotton Malone is back, as he and his son Gary find themselves in the middle of it all when they stop in London on the way from Gary’s home in Georgia to Cotton’s bookshop in Copenhagen for what was supposed to be a quiet Thanksgiving visit. Not quite how things work out. This one kept me up a couple of nights in a row.

My Favorite Thriller: Steve Berry

Recently I was invited to a birthday party for a male friend, and I was stumped by the thought of a suitable gift. It’s so hard to buy gifts for guys. I’ve known Ed for years (he’s my friend Jo Anne’s brother), but that doesn’t mean I knew what to buy for him. I know he likes to read, and Jo Anne told me he likes political thrillers. Aha, I thought, after scratching my head and staring at my bookshelves (the ones devoted to mysteries and mainstream fiction) for a while: Steve Berry. Ed’s wife, Anne, couldn’t tell me for sure if Ed had read Berry, but when I told her that Berry’s tales generally involve an historical mystery and/or treasure hunt with present day political consequences, she thought that was just what he’d like. So I headed over to Half Price Books one day (more book for your buck, not to mention the availability of good hard cover editions of backlist books) and found three for Ed: The Third Secret, The Templar Legacy, and The Alexandria Link. The first is a stand-alone thriller; the others are the first and second in Berry’s series about Cotton Malone, former government agent trying, not all that successfully, to retire to life as an antiquarian book dealer in Copenhagen. (I’ve since heard through the grapevine that Ed is pleased with my choice.)

The Amber Room I started reading Berry’s novels way back when the first one, The Amber Room, came out in 2003. The story of the legendary Amber Room, said to have been stolen in its entirety from Russia by the Nazis, was enough to tempt me into a genre I didn’t often read. Berry’s second novel, The Romanov Prophecy, touched on a bit of history I’d always found fascinating. I was hooked. (Odd trick of memory here: I was sure I had shared these books with my late husband, Jack. But Jack died in 2002, before The Amber Room was published. I suppose I just knew at the time that I wished I could share it with him—it’s a novel he would have loved.)

Shopping for Ed reminded me that I still had three unread Berry novels on my shelf—if you’ve visited here before you probably know I buyThe Jefferson Key books a lot faster than I can possibly read them. So the other day I picked up the next one in line, The Jefferson Key, and dove in. It definitely lived up to the description I’d given Ed: a secret cypher, developed by Thomas Jefferson and used by Andrew Jackson to conceal the whereabouts of papers essential to a conspiracy of modern-day hereditary privateers, an attempted assassination, and the most infuriating villain I’ve run across in some time. I stayed up until one o’clock in the morning to finish it.

The Lincoln MythI have two more Berry novels on my shelf, The Columbus Affair (a stand-alone), and The King’s Deception (Cotton Malone), and Berry has a new one out just last month, another Cotton Malone called The Lincoln Myth (the last time I looked at the New York Times bestseller list, there it was). I’ll wait a bit before I get to that one, though: Berry’s novels are so packed with action and suspense and move at such a break-neck pace that I can’t read them back to back. But they’ll stay on my keeper shelf and one day I’ll read them all again.

History geeks like me will also enjoy the Writer’s Note at the end of each book, in which Berry lays out the historical basis of his stories and explains what he added. Information on all of Berry’s books is available on his web site at steveberry.org.

 

Adjusting to Change

Change is seldom easy, even when you’ve been looking forward to it.  Not that I’m complaining about my new schedule, not at all.  This is my second long weekend, and it’s not over yet.  Tomorrow is Monday, and I don’t have to go to work, don’t have to get up at 6:15, don’t have to drive into Houston.

It’s just that I’m having my usual trouble relaxing, reminding myself that my schedule is looser now, that I don’t really have anything pressing I have to do before tomorrow.

I’ve been sleeping seven or eight hours a night,  instead of the five or six I’ve been managing with for so long.  I wonder how long it takes to recover from chronic sleep deprivation, and one friend tells me he’s still trying to catch up with the sleep he lost doing shift work forty years ago.  Another friend, who retired from teaching to write full time a few years back, tells me I’ll soon be just as busy as I ever was.  She may be right, but I’m hoping most of that busyness will be of my own choosing.

I’m still too tired to read much when I get into bed, but this afternoon I sat and read for an hour (Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey)–while doing the laundry, before an hour of ironing.  Some things don’t change.  I haven’t cracked any of the DVD movies I’ve been saving, but I’ve caught up on a few TV shows On Demand.

We’ve gotten some rain this week, and today it was overcast, relatively cool, and extremely humid.  Fortunately I mowed the lawn last Monday, but that’s about all I’ve done in the yard, except for collecting several bags of toad stools before they could spread even more spores across the lawn.  And the rain woke up the mosquitos.

More BooksI’ve done some shopping, of course, some of it necessary (groceries) and some for fun (books).  I’m still buying books, or downloading them to my Kindle, far faster than I’m reading them, but that’s nothing new.  Last weekend I went to Barnes & Noble for several books by friends (Lady in Red by Maire Claremont, Summer Is For Lovers by Jennifer McQuiston, Spy’s Honor by Amy Raby, and Find Me by Romily Bernard), and that lovely anthology of the first five Oz books–with the original illustrations!  This weekend, I went to Half Price Books and picked up the latest novels by two authors I’ve read regularly since their first books came out, Sue Grafton’s W Is For Wasted and Steve Berry’s The King’s Deception.

Yesterday I did get up at 6 AM, to make the long drive across town to the West Houston RWA meeting.  My term as president is almost over–one more meeting, and some planning and paperwork to take care of, and then I can pass that on to the next board.  It’s not an onerous job, but it’s time consuming, and two years is quite enough.  I’m lightening the load.

I’m still a bit in vacation mode.  I haven’t made appointments or plans for any of those easier-done-on-a-weekday projects I’ve been saving.  But I’m working on my latest writing project again, and I have eight pages to read to my critique group tomorrow evening.

And lots of books to read.

More From RWA 2011

The RWA conference got off to a great start this morning with a panel of NYTimes bestsellers:  Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon, and Tess Gerritsen.  I’ve been a big fan of Berry’s thrillers from the beginning, starting with The Amber Room.  Right now my copy of The Emperor’s Tomb is waiting for me, bookmarked around page 150, and next to it The Jefferson Key.  So I was looking forward to his appearance, and I found Gabaldon and Gerritsen just as entertaining.  All three answered questions about how they sold their first novels, their writing habits, and told any number of hilarious stories.  Berry wrote for twelve years and eight manuscripts before he sold The Amber Room.  Gabaldon wrote Outlander as a “practice novel,”  and to this day can’t explain it in an elevator pitch.  Gerritsen wrote romantic suspense novels for years before she decided to write a medical thriller; until then she had never mentioned to her agent that she was a physician.

The crowd nearly filled the enormous Broadway Ballroom, and president Dorien Kelly announced that the conference has over 2100 registered attendees, from all fifty states and more than twenty other countries.  No question that the hotel is teeming with women (and a few men) sporting RWA badges adorned with a variety of pins and ribbons, carrying two thousand matching tote bags.

We returned to the Broadway Ballroom for an excellent lunch, expertly served to a packed room in the unbelievable din of the crowd.  Fortunately the microphones and giant TV screens allowed everyone to hear Madeline Hunter’s keynote address.

Jo Anne and I spent the afternoon at the PRO retreat, a set of workshops for members who have completed and submitted at least one manuscript.  The session focused on industry matters and featured a marketing executive from HarperCollins along with agents and authors.  An impressive list of PRO members also graduated from PRO to PAN (Published Author Network) status.

By the end of the day I had added another five free books to my stack (they appear on the chairs in the ballroom, courtesy of the speakers’ publishers), visited the Goody Room filled with promotional items, and made a pass through the Book Fair, which offers books by the dozens of speakers and assorted craft books (and I resisted temptation there!).

After some time in our room to rest our feet and check our email, we decided it was time to get out of the hotel for a while.  We went all the way across the street to Junior’s where we feasted on corned beef and pastrami reubens, onion rings the size of lawnmower tires, dill pickles and pickled beets.  (We brought back a third of the sandwiches and a slice of cheesecake.)   As we ate out on the sidewalk patio, in balmy weather, we watched a mounted police officer issue a ticket to a parked UPS truck, while taxi cabs and delivery trucks whizzed by at amazing speeds and pedestrians of every description wandered past.  A second police horse arrived and the two horses and their officers doubled as ambassadors for the city as passersby, adults as well as children, stopped to admire and pet them (the horses, although the cops were quite attractive, too).

Many  of the special interest RWA chapters had events tonight, but Jo Anne and I sat and visited with friends.  Visited the bar a couple of times, too.

Tomorrow: workshops, an appointment with an agent, luncheon featuring the annual RWA servicce awards, and a reception for the Golden Heart and Rita contest finalists.

Books, books, books.

I braved the heat to do some shopping today, looking for a birthday present for my neighbor, and the autopilot in my car dragged me into the parking lot at Half-Price Books.  It often does, despite my continuing insistence that I don’t need more books.

I think I’ve actually bought, and read, more paper books than electronic since I bought my Kindle about three months ago.  And since  the Houston NPR station, KUHF, split into two channels, one news/talk and one classical music, I hear about even more interesting books, both the newly published and those going into paperback release, giving one show or another a good excuse to rerun an interview from last year.

A couple of weeks ago such an interview sent me over to Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy of Empire of the Summer Moon, the story of Quanah Parker, the last great chief of the Comanche, and the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by the Comanche as a girl and grew up as one of them.  This week it was Last Call, a history of Prohibition.

So there I stood in the U. S. History alcove at Half-Price Books, staring at the shelves, neatly alphabetized by author, completely unable to remember the name of the writer whose interview had made me want to find the book.  What to do?  Well, I pulled my Kindle out of my purse, flipped the switch, turned on the wireless connection (I have the 3G version, which works anywhere you can get a cell phone signal), and searched the Kindle store for the book.  There are a LOT of books with the title Last Call, but there at the top was the one I wanted, by Daniel Okrent.  (No wonder I couldn’t remember the name.)  And there on the shelf was a copy of the hardback edition.

I also found a DVD for a friend, the birthday present I wanted for my neighbor (three novels by the very talented Deeanne Gist, who writes Inspirational Historical Romances that appeal even to Non-Inspired readers like me), and The Virgin’s Lover, a novel by Phillipa Gregory, whose books take me back to the sweeping historical fiction I read as a girl.

Last night I finished reading The Restorer, by Amanda Stevens, an excellent and scary romance/mystery about an archeologist who specializes in cemetery restoration.  (I have a degree in archeology and anthropology myself, and I never knew there was such a specialty.)  My only complaint about this book is that the sequel won’t be out until November.

Both Amanda and Deeanne are members of the West Houston RWA chapter, as are two other friends who are releasing some of their backlist books in electronic form.  Before Colleen Thompson wrote gritty romantic suspense, she wrote edgy historical romance under the name Gwyneth Atlee.  Several of these are now available again as ebooks.  Cheryl Bolen writes wonderful Regency era romances, and some of her out-of-print titles can now be downloaded as well.

Time to pick something from my ever-burgeoning collection of unread books.  I don’t think I’m quite ready to return to the world of The Hunger Games.  Maybe I’ll revisit Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris’ latest tale.  Or find out what’s happening with Cotton Malone in Steve Berry’s new one.  Or go to sleep, because I have to go to work in the morning.  Naw, that’s too practical.  The only problem with all those unread books (including the three I bought yesterday after the meeting) is choosing the next one to read.

Paper books are in no danger

in my library.  This afternoon I found myself pre-ordering three more from the Mystery Guild:  Charlaine Harris’ Dead Reckoning (the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel), Steve Berry’s The Jefferson Key (a new suspense thriller featuring Cotton Malone), and Earlene Fowler’s Spider Web (the latest installment in her Benny Harper quilt-themed mystery series).  All three will be available in ebook form (at prices comparable to the Mystery Guild’s), but I’m a long-time fan of these series and have all the previous books in hard cover.  I don’t want to break up the sets.

New books and old books seem to be widely available in electronic form.  Many publishers are making ebooks available as soon as the traditional versions hit the shelves.  And old classics, especially those no longer under copyright, abound.  Many of these are free or very inexpensive.  I certainly don’t begrudge a dollar or two to whoever has done the work of digitizing a book worth preserving.

But there’s a long stretch in the middle, books still under copyright but no longer current.  Over the last few weeks I’ve popped over to the Amazon site frequently, wondering if this or that old favorite is available as on ebook.  The answer is often no, but many are still around in print.  And I’ve been buying them, reminded by my browsing of books I really want to read again.

And if I want to read them again, why can’t I just pull them off my bookshelf?  Because I’ve lived in this house for thirty five years, and if I’d kept all the books I’ve owned over that time, the place would look like one of those trainwrecks on cable TV, a hoarding disaster.  I may not be a dedicated housekeeper, but you can see all my furniture.  The only obstructions on the floor are Nutmeg’s belongings.  She chews on newsprint, but as far as I can tell she doesn’t read.