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, is investigating 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.

 

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