Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lizzie: A Novel of Lizzie Borden by Evan Hunter

This novel by Evan Hunter a.k.a. Ed McBain tells the story of a little known event from the life of Lizzie Borden, her Grand Tour of Europe in 1890, two years before the axe murders of her father and stepmother that assured her place, to this day, in the annals of infamy, crime, and history.

Factual details about Lizzie's Grand Tour are scarce, so it is fertile ground for a novelist to weave a tale around. In this novel, Lizzie falls under the spell of a free-spirited English woman and lets her latent lesbian tendencies surface and blossom under this worldly and sophisticated woman's expert tutelage.

The story is told in alternating chapters that move back and forth between Lizzie's Grand Tour and dramatized but actual testimony from the murder trial in 1892-93 leading up to Lizzie's return to dull, dreary, prim, narrow-minded Fall River, Massachusetts after the excitement of Victorian London, Paris, and the Riviera, and, of course, her sexual awakening. The later chapters detail the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden and the motive for them, about which I will say nothing so as not to spoil it for anyone who might want to read the book. I personally felt that the insertion of the trial testimony, though interesting in its own right, disrupted the flow of the story, but that is merely my personal opinion.

For anyone interested in the Lizzie Borden case this fictional account will doubtless make interesting reading.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Temporarily Out of Print: Vengeance Is Mine

"Vengeance Is Mine: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, and Lady Rochford" by Brandy Purdy will be reissued in February 2010 by Kensington Books under the title "The Boleyn Wife." The new edition will include some content not included in the original. I will post more information about this as I have it.

Per agreement with the new publisher the original iUniverse edition was withdrawn from publication. Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the original edition may be able to find a used copy from one of Amazon's marketplace sellers.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

An Involuntary King A Tale of Anglo-Saxon England by Nan Hawthorne

"An Involuntary King" is a grand tale, it is the best kind of story, a rich, exciting, medieval saga that skillfully blends adventure, romance, and history to weave a captivating tapestry the reader will want to stay enmeshed in even after the last page has been read.

Lawrence, younger son of Arneth, King of Crislicland, was never meant to be king. When tragedy foists the crown upon him, he fights to master his own feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt and prove himself worthy of the honor. He strives to become not just a good king, but a great king--strong, beloved, and wise.

This novel charts the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Lawrence's reign: the bloody battles to hold his kingdom and vanquish his foes; his marriage to the passionate and lively Josephine, whose beauty draws admirers as honey does flies, including a darkly handsome mercenary willing to do anything to make her his own.

With a vibrant cast of characters who seem to spring to life and leap right off the page and burrow tenaciously into the reader's imagination with a determination never to be forgotten, "An Involuntary King" is from start to finish a delight to read. The author's love, knowledge, and dedication to this book and its characters are apparent on every page. It is a strong and engrossing novel that fully deserves a dedicated following.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An American Haunting: The Bell Witch by Brent Monahan

This novel is cleverly presented as a true account, a long forgotten manuscript unearthed in a dusty attic, with the actual author, Brent Monahan, crediting himself only as editor. It is even peppered with footnotes and 19th century woodcut and engraved illustrations depicting the event and personalities involved to give it an added air of authenticity.

The manuscript purports to be an eye-witness account of the Bell Witch Haunting, which occurred primarily between 1817 and 1822, when a poltergeist bedeviled the Bell family of Adams, Tennessee, focusing its wrath chiefly upon the youngest daughter, Betsy Bell, 13 at the time the phenomena began, and her elderly father John Bell, who later supposedly died as a result of the spirit's machinations. The case is unique in the annals of hauntings as it is the only known instance when a spirit swore vengeance against and later took credit for killing a living person.

The author of this narrative is Richard Powell (1788-1842) the local schoolmaster and future husband of Betsy Bell. Some readers may find the writing style a trifle dry, dispassionate, and antiquated, however, to my mind, given the narrator's personality and the time period it was supposedly written in, this rings true, although it also slows the book down and makes it seem longer than it actually is. Despite this, it is a fascinating account, chock-full of period details about life amongst the good, simple, God-fearing farmers and settlers of rustic Tennessee in the early years of the 19th century, who find themselves up against something--a supernatural or demonic entity?--they are powerless to understand and defend themselves against. They watch in horror as the haunting escalates from noises in the night to physical blows struck against the Bell family. The spirit soon acquires a distinctly feminine voice and a personality alternately playful, vexing, mean, grating on the nerves, and at times prophetic; another characteristic that makes this haunting deviate from the norm in recorded poltergeist cases.

If you are not put off by the writing style and have an interest in ghosts and hauntings, or the Bell Witch in particular, then I urge you to give this novel a try.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Trailer for The Confession of Piers Gaveston

You can view a trailer for my novel "The Confession of Piers Gaveston" at

Special thanks to Nan Hawthorne, author of "An Involuntary King," for producing the book trailer. For more information about Nan and her work visit

From the back cover of "The Confession of Piers Gaveston":

The history books tell us that Piers Gaveston was many things: arrogant, ambitious, avaricious, flamboyant, extravagant, reckless, brave, and daring, indiscreet, handsome, witty, vivacious, vain, and peacock-proud, a soldier and champion jouster, the son of a condemned witch, who used witchcraft, his own wicked wiles, and forbidden sex to entice and enslave King Edward II, alienate him from his nobles and advisors, and keep him from the bed of his beautiful bride Isabelle. Edward’s infatuation with Gaveston, and the deluge of riches he showered on him, nearly plunged England into civil war.

Now the object of that scandalous and legendary obsession tells his side of the story in The Confession of Piers Gaveston:

“Mayhap even now, when I have only just begun, it is already too late to set the story straight. My infamy, I fear, is too well entrenched. Whenever they tell the story of Edward’s reign I will always be the villain and Edward, the poor, weak-willed, pliant king who fell under my spell, the golden victim of a dark enchantment. There are two sides to every coin; but when the bards and chroniclers, the men who write the histories, tell this story, will anyone remember that?”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

Ever since I was a child I have been captivated by tales of true life mysterious disappearances, the stories of people who vanished seemingly without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again. The story of Colonel Percy Fawcett, one of the last great Victorian explorers, who in 1925 vanished into “The Green Hell” of the dense, dangerous, and uncharted Amazon jungle while searching for a fabled lost city he cryptically referred to only as Z, has always fascinated me.

Since his disappearance, hundreds have sought the solution to this mystery, many have perished, suffered untold agonies, or vanished themselves in search of the elusive explorer and his two traveling companions—his 21 year old movie-star-handsome son Jack, and his lifelong best friend Raleigh Rimell.

Now this new book, "The Lost City of Z," by journalist David Grann, takes the search for Colonel Fawcett into the 21st century, collecting the myths, rumors, legends, and searches for the lost explorer. It also tells about his colorful life of adventure, how he came to be an explorer, and the great love story of his marriage to devoted, and loyally long-suffering wife Nina Paterson Fawcett who never gave up searching for her husband in this world or the next. When clues were lacking in the real world, Nina sought them in séance rooms and crystal balls. Nina schooled herself to be impartial, spending her days pouring over her husband’s papers and maps, weighing each tantalizing clue that came in for veracity or falsehood, and till her dying day, at age 84 in 1953, she never stopped hoping that her long lost husband would walk through the door.

Grann was granted access to Fawcett’s journals and papers still held by descendants and the Royal Geographical Society. He even ventured into the Amazon himself in search of clues regarding Fawcett’s fate and talked to an elderly native woman, born circa 1910, who is probably the last living person to have encountered the doomed explorer when he and his party passed through her village. He also met with Fawcett’s granddaughter who told him about the last concrete trace of Fawcett, his gold signet ring engraved with his motto “Nec Aspera Terrent” or “Difficulties Be Damned,” which surfaced in a Mato Grosso shop in 1979. Desperate for more information, Fawcett’s family consulted a psychic, who said the ring had been “bathed in blood.”

From the moment his disappearance became public knowledge, theories abounded about Fawcett’s fate. It was widely believed that he and his party had been captured by hostile Indians and either killed or held captive. There were also rumors that he and his party had fallen victim to headhunters or provided sustenance for cannibals. The more pragmatic believed that the missing men had simply died of starvation, one of the many illnesses, infections, or diseases rampant in the jungle, or become victims of the many dangerous and venomous creatures, some of Nature’s best weapons, that make their home in the Amazon. While the more fanciful and romantically inclined chose to believe the missing men had turned their backs on civilization and “gone native.”

In the 1940s a young Indian boy with startlingly white skin and blue eyes was put forward as the alleged son of Jack Fawcett and a native woman until medical tests confirmed that—as Nina Fawcett suspected after seeing photos that suggested the boy’s eyes were troubled by bright light—he was indeed an albino. In the 1950s an Indian tribe produced bones they claimed were Colonel Fawcett’s mortal remains, however, an examination by the Royal Anthropological Society in London proved this to be false as well—Percy Fawcett was a keen rugby player in his youth and had his front teeth knocked out during a game, as a result he wore an upper denture plate for the rest of his life. His spare plate was on hand to compare with the dentition of the skull. The skeletal remains also proved to belong to a much shorter man than the nearly 6’2” Colonel Fawcett.

Tantalizing reports, some later exposed as fraudulent, trickled in throughout the years from people who claimed to have encountered the captive Colonel. One Swiss trapper, who himself vanished without a trace on a follow-up expedition to rescue Fawcett, claimed to have spoken with the imprisoned explorer, who implored him to go to the British Consulate and tell Major Paget that he needed help. This detail, despite other inconsistencies in the trapper’s tale, rang true as Paget really was a friend and supporter of Fawcett’s.

Another disturbing theory surfaced in 1952, though it was not made public at the time, when Fawcett’s youngest son, Brian, a dissatisfied engineer, decided to write a book about his father’s expeditions, “Exploration Fawcett,” which would go on to become a popular bestseller. Amongst Fawcett’s papers, Brian found page after page of deluded ravings about the end of the world, Atlantis, Madame Blavatsky’s beliefs (she was the founder of a religion known as Theosophy) with the lost city of Z as the central theme tying them all together. In his private writings, Fawcett likened Z to the Garden of Eden, even going so far as to call it “the cradle of civilization,” and espoused the belief that he would “attain transcendence” upon finding it. Brian recalled that his father had once written in a letter to a friend that “Those whom the Gods intend to destroy they first make mad!” Remembering these words in light of his recent discoveries, they took on a chilling new meaning for Brian Fawcett. Had the search for Z been only a mystical pipe dream that ended up costing three men—and many of those who went in search of them—their lives? To this day, there are certain religious cults, based on theosophical principles and hollow earth theories, that revere Colonel Fawcett as a god, they believe he found Z, a portal to an alternate reality, and there he still lives, presiding over a subterranean city.

All in all, I found "The Lost City of Z" to be a very hard book to put down. I recommend it to anyone who likes tales of adventure, archaeology, Indiana Jones style explorers, the search for lost civilizations and treasure, or real life mysteries.