Total Pageviews

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Jacobites' Apprentice

If a rogue can only tell a lie, and a righteous person can only tell the truth, how is a young, inexperienced person to tell which is which in the swirling politics of an English town divided between loyalty to the Hanoverian King George II, or the "true" king James III in exile on the Continent - the Jacobite faction?  That's the question posed in The Jacobites' Apprentice (#230) by David Ebsworth.

Aran Owen, a young Welsh orphan, is sent by his patron to Manchester in the 1740s where Josiah Redmond thinks Aran will have better opportunities to make his fortune in his brother Titus Redmond's household.  Titus is a merchant with a finger in every pie, although his Catholic faith prohibits him from holding any civic offices.  That doesn't mean that Titus and his wife and older daughters don't meddle in politics; on the contrary, they are amongst the leaders of the local Jacobite faction.  When Aran completes his apprenticeship with the local printer, he is drawn into printing the broadsides and the newspaper supporting the Jacobites, although he finds drawing the illustrations for these the most satisfying part of his work.  As rumors abound that Prince Charles Edward Stuart is about to land somewhere in England Aran runs afoul of the enigmatic Dudley Striker, an agent of the Duke of Newcastle working for the Hanoverian interests.  Striker leaves behind a trail of mysterious deaths and mutilations as he cultivates his sources of information.  Aran has already suffered at his hands; can he protect Titus Redmond and his wife and four daughters as Striker plays his deadly games?  And as Manchester changes hands from the Hanoverians to the Jacobites and back again, who is truly working for the good of the English people?

I found it took me a long time to read this book.  I thought of The Jacobites' Apprentice principally as a political novel as I was reading it; governmental politics, small town politics, and sexual politics all play their role in the story. And that takes time to digest.  Love, loyalty and lies, betrayal and brutality move the story forward and from character to character as events unfold in the Rising of '45 and the specter of a full blown civil war threaten the inhabitants of Manchester.

In many ways, I found Aran Owen to be the least compelling character in the book, and Dudley Striker the most interesting.  His ability to slip in and out of different guises, to strike absolute terror into the hearts of those he encounters, and his uncanny knack for wriggling out of a tight spot with his wits, but if necessary, deadly force make him the ideal operative and double agent.  I don't think that the sentence meted out to him at the end of the book would ever be the final chapter for him...

I did find it interesting as an American reader of this story how many names cropped up in the narrative that were familiar to me in a different context - in the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution.  It impressed me that Mr. Ebsworth had even done his homework on Native American tribes and customs for Dudley Striker's back story growing up in Virginia.

Be warned when you read The Jacobites' Apprentice that the language of the times is quite coarse, but don't let that deter you.  Does Aran eventually figure out for himself who are the rogues and who the righteous?  Hmm.  I wonder...

Thursday, October 11, 2012


It didn't take me long to finish the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay (#229).  Katniss Everdeen has been snatched from the Quarter Quell arena by a hovercraft.  When she regains consciousness, she is being cared for in a District 13 hospital, far underground.  Several other victors have been rescued along with her, but Peeta has been captured by the Capitol.  Gale is there, though, with his family and hers, refugees after the Capitol bombed District 12 into oblivion immediately after the Games.

It gradually becomes clear to Katniss that District 13's President Coin has a specific role in mind for her.  She is to become the Mockingjay, the face of the rebellion, in a costume designed for her by her stylist Cinna before he was beaten to death in front of her.  Her job will be to appear in propaganda films for the rebels.  Beetee, one of the older victors, has recovered sufficiently from his own ordeal in the Quarter Quell to figure out how to hack into the Capitol broadcast system to air these "propos".   But Katniss isn't sure she wants to support a regime that has stood by and watched the other Districts be destroyed.  It seems she has exchanged one dictatorship for another, and if Katniss doesn't comply, those she loves will suffer.  Only two things drive her at this point: releasing Peeta from the clutches of the Capitol, and her desire to kill President Snow with her own hands.  It's a very costly war, indeed, physically, emotionally and psychologically. It's not at all certain that Katniss or anyone she loves or values will manage to survive.

I think that these books succeed because they are such compelling reading.  The reader is caught up in the world of Panem, but Suzanne Collins raises so many pertinent moral and ethical issues along the way that the questions and discussions that arise after reading this trilogy are as much a part of the story as the adventure itself.  That's why I think reading the book will always trump the movie version of any literary tale, no matter how well it's done.  It can only be a paler version of the original; after all, an action (thinking!) always creates a stronger impression than a passive (watching) experience.  I encourage you to read this series and think for yourselves.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Catching Fire

Now I understand why friends got very cranky if interrupted while reading any of the books in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.  I just finished reading the second book, Catching Fire (#228), and I'm very grateful that my friends lent me the third book at the same time. 

The books are so well written, and in Catching Fire, the tension is ratcheted up even further.  Katniss Everdeen and her partner from District  12, Peeta Mellark have survived the Hunger Games by acting as a couple in love.  President Snow is forced to declare them both victors when they threaten suicide if both are not allowed to live.  Life should be good for them and their families now, but President Snow hasn't forgotten Katniss' public defiance, or the fact that rebellions are beginning to break out in the other Districts.  Katniss and Peeta see evidence of this themselves as they make the Victor's Tour through all the provinces. 

Their tour ends at the Capitol, where for the seventy fifth anniversary of the Dark Days, President Snow declares that the Quarter Quell, celebrated every twenty five years since, will be special this year: the participants will be reaped from the surviving victors of all the Districts.   To add to the horror in this round, not only had the victors  thought themselves safe, but they will be forced to fight against their friends.  Alliances will be formed, but who can be trusted now?  And what role does the mockingjay play?

I won't tell you, you'll  have to read for yourself to find out, but will reveal that I picked up Mockingjay just as soon as I put down Catching Fire.  Now don't bother me until I finish!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken

Although it sounds like The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (#227) by Tarquin Hall could be the title of a humorous dieter's memoir, it's actually the third outing in an entertaining mystery series featuring quirky Indian private investigator Vish Puri.  Having read and thoroughly enjoyed The Case of the Missing Servant, the first book in the series, I was delighted to win the latest book as a GoodReads First Reads giveaway.

Things have been quiet around Vish Puri's agency lately, so when he is called in to consult on the brazen night time theft of India's most famous mustache, he jumps at the chance to take on the case.  After all, what if his own lovingly tended mustache is at risk?  But his investigation must be put on hold as he and the rest of his extended family are expected at an important international cricket match.  His nephew will be making his debut against a strong team with star Pakistani players.  At the reception following the game, Vish witnesses some peculiar goings-on and the death of one of the Pakistani delegation after consuming some of the same Butter Chicken that he himself has just sampled  out of his wife's sight.  Maybe Rumpi is right about that diet he should be on...

Vish can't pursue the murder on his own, but an old Scotland Yard acquaintance contacts him to look into a cricket match-fixing gambling syndicate with international ramifications.  Involvement with the syndicate has already proved fatal to several people, as Vish's operatives pursue promising leads across India's social strata.  Vish is in danger himself, but even more worrisome is that fact that his own Mummy-ji seems to be investigating someone or something on her own.  She hasn't been the same since that post-game reception.  All the clues seem to be leading in the same disturbing direction  - Pakistan.  And the mustache thief isn't done yet, either.

Though at first glance, The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken appears to be just another light-hearted mystery caper, as you read, you are drawn into the realities of India today: the modern technology struggling to pull India into the twenty first century at odds with the ancient customs, religious prejudices and poverty, all housed in a confusing jumble of slums, government-built blocks and glass skyscrapers.  And at the core is an event in India's fairly recent past that few of us in the West know much about: the Partition that in 1947 divided the Indian subcontinent into modern India and Pakistan, and later, Bangladesh.  I've got to love a book that provides entertainment with such a provocative punch.  Kudos, Mr. Hall!  Please keep Vish Puri on the case (with more recipes, of course!).