Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Alchemy of Murder By Carol McCleary

Ms McCleary has written a wonderful, entertaining and perfectly delightful novel featuring investigative journalist Nellie Bly. Nellie Bly was a colorful pioneer in woman’s rights who pushed her way into the newspaper business and wrote an expose’ on the treatment of female factory workers. She went on to become a foreign correspondent in Mexico and to get a job with The New York World newspaper, she feigned insanity and had herself committed to a notorious Woman’s Lunatic Asylum and wrote an article about how the women were treated. Inspired by Jules Verne’s novel, she went around the world in 72 days beating Phileas Fogg’s time by 8 days. This was in 1890.

Our author has placed Nellie in Paris in pursuit of a serial killer who has been killing and mutilating young women. She has been tracking this evil person from America to England and now to France. The year is 1889; the World’s Fair and it’s special attraction, the Eiffel Tower has attracted hundreds of thousands of people. The killer of women has struck in Paris and if that were not bad enough, a strange, deadly plague is taking the lives of the people of Paris. The French Ministers are not anxious to expose either the killings of the mysterious deaths for fear of panicking the Fair visitors. They attribute the plague to the gases from the underground rivers. Nellie thinks that the there is a connection with her serial killer. In this exciting adventure, Nellie meets and enlists the aid of some of the most interesting and contemporary figures of the time; Jules Verne , Oscar Wilde, Louis Pasteur and even Toulouse Lautrec. Together they explored streets and alleys of Paris; they meet dangerous characters and visit some very scary places; Nellie even enjoys a little romance. There were some surprises and an exciting climax when Nellie faces the killer alone.

I,really, enjoyed this one and look forward to more Nellie Bly adventures. Thank you Carol!

Heresy By S.J. Parrish

A splendid, intriguing, historical novel about a fugitive Monk, Giordano Bruno, who is wanted by the inquisition because of his heretical belief in a heliocentric universe. Giordano is also a poet, a scientist and a scholar.

Giordano flees to England where the Protestant Queen Elizabeth is embroiled in the constant battle with Catholics. Her chief spy is Sir Francis Wolsingham a devious and clever master of an army of spies none of whom knows the identity of the other. Wolsingham suspects that Oxford University is a haven for rebellious Catholics who are plotting to assassinate Elizabeth. Giordano is hired to infiltrate and expose the underground network of Papists.

As a ruse to gain entrance, Bruno is to debate the theories of Copernicus with the head of the University. During the debate, which goes very badly for Bruno because the head of the University and the faculty had such closed minds that they refused to even accept the premise, the first of several murders occur. The Rector, fearing a scandal, refuses to bring in the authorities to investigate; Giordano recognizes the deaths as murder and investigates himself which puts him at odds with the Rector and the faculty. Giordano must use all of his skill in the face of deceptions and obstacles the Rector and some of the faculty put before him while at the same time keeping his mission secret and his life safe from the inquisition.

This was a brilliant and compelling story; I am sure that there will be another novel highlighting Giordano Bruno’s adventure.

Hester By Paula Reed

In the mid 1800’s, Nathaniel Hawthorn gave us “The Scarlet Letter”. Hawthorn’s famous work takes place in 17th century Boston in a rigid Puritan community and tells the story of Hester Pryne a young woman whose husband was presumably lost at sea several years ago being led from prison with her infant daughter in her arms wearing an embroidered letter “A” on the breast of her gown, a badge of her shame and the sin of adultery. Her further punishment in to stand on a raised scaffold for the next three hours to be viewed by the people of the village and to be questioned and shamed by the Governor and other high officials including the pious and respected young minister Roger Dimmesdale who joins the throng in an impassioned plea for Hester to name her lover. She continues to refuse to do so.

It is at this time that a stranger shows up who identifies himself as Roger Chillingworth a practice of medicine. He is actually Hester’s husband who refuses to admit his identity and later, forces Hester not to acknowledge him. He makes up his mind that somehow he will find out who Hester’s lover is and kill him.

Hester clings to the Scarlet Letter, she refuses to remove it; she is shunned by the community but because of her seamstress abilities she is able to make a living and raise her daughter. Hester, after a time of charitable deeds has an easier life but she becomes able to look at persons in the village and know their sins this ability shows her that no one seems to be without sin and many of the most pious share the sin of adultery.

The story goes on to reveal that Arthur Dimmesdale is Hester’s lover and the father of their daughter, Pearl. Hester and Arthur finally decide to confess and leave on a ship to England. As they stand before the village Arthur exposes his chest and presents an “A’ that has been burned over his heart. Arthur dies; Chillingworth does not get his revenge. When Roger dies, he claims Pearl as hi own and leaves her hi fortune.
Hester and Pearl Leave Boston for many years and Hester The returns alone. Hester lives the rest of her days in the village doing charity, she is accepted by the women of the village and when she dies, is buried next to Arthur. On the simple tombstone they share is written “On a Field, Sable, The Letter “A”, Gules”


Paula Reed, in her “Hester” has written a story she calls the missing years of the “Scarlet Letter”.

Hester and Pearl are still in Boston, Pearl is seven years old, Hester still has what she calls her “touch” but she is, now, accepted by the women in the community and they look to her for advice. Roger Chillingworth dies and leaves his very substantial fortune to Pearl who, in his will, he claims to be his daughter. Hester and Pearl leave for England to start a new life.

Seventeenth Century England was Protestant, Catholics and Jews were hated. Mary, Queen of Scot was maligned as a “Papist whore” Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of the Commonwealth and in his zeal to keep England Protestant and to ferret out “secret Catholics” he had spies all over and tortured his suspects into confession.

Hester and Pearl began their life in England by living with and becoming a part of the family of a girlhood friend who was married to a high ranking military man, one of Cromwell’s people, who was away from home most of the time fighting Catholic rebels. Through this connection she met Cromwell who somehow discovers Hester’s ability to see sin and hypocrisy in others and he blackmails her to help him expose disloyal people. One of Cromwell’s fears is that England might be attacked by one of the Catholic kings and be aided by the “secret” Catholics in England. Hester becomes very much involved in the political and social intrigues of the times to the point that she endangers her life and others close to her.

This was a very interesting and well told story. Hester had a love afair in England but after arranging a suitable marriage for Pearl, she returned to Boston to die alone.