Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: The Queen's Devil (A William Constable Spy Thriller) by Paul Walker


1583.

William Constable, recently married astrologer and mathematician, has settled into routine work as a physician when he is requested to attend two prisoners in the Tower of London. Both are accused of separate acts treason, but their backgrounds suggest there may be a connection.

Sir Francis Walsingham and Lord Burghley urge William to discover further intelligence from the prisoners while tending their injuries from torture.

The agent's investigations lead him to the French Embassy, which lies at the heart of a conspiracy which threatens the nation.

Through his enquiries, an unsuspecting William becomes entangled in a perilous web of politicking and religious fervour.

The threat comes from one the most powerful men in the English court – one referred to as the Queen’s Devil.

William faces a race against time to unpick these ties, climaxing in a daring raid on the Embassy.


Excerpt

William Constable is at the Tower of London to tend the injuries from torture of the alleged conspirator, John Somerville
 
A manservant opens the door, and a short, round woman exits. She is wrapped in a heavy grey cloak, and her shoulders shiver at the sudden loss of warmth. I hazard she is no more than twenty-five, and the cover is a fine wool, so this may be the lady mentioned by Burghley.

She says, ‘Doctor Constable, I am Mary Brydges. I will take you to Master Somerville.’ She meets my gaze with an air of self-assurance and hands my note back.

‘Good day to you, Lady Brydges. I am grateful for your consideration in leaving the comfort of your chamber to guide me.’

She smiles and dismisses my escort with a wave of her hand. ‘We have moved him to a chamber in this tower.’ She points ahead. ‘We saw no reason to subject you to the dismal conditions of his examination cell. I have placed bowls of clean water and linen wraps on a table there for your use.’

I dip my head to show appreciation of her kindness. We climb wooden steps to the tower door, which is locked and barred. She gestures with a gloved hand, and I answer by pounding the door with my fist. It is opened by a thickset man with a bushy beard, who wipes his hands down a leather jerkin before bowing deeply and making way for our entrance. This will be the guard room. Two men are sat at a table spread with the pickings from carcasses of boiled fowl. It seems our entry is unexpected. After a moment of uncertainty, they stand and bow stiffly. The first guard takes a ring of keys and leads us up a stone stairway to the next storey. He unlocks a door and leaves us. I want to reach for the handle, but she places her hand on my arm and watches as the guard descends. When he is gone, she says, ‘Do you wish me to enter with you and introduce Master Somerville? I should warn that his body has suffered cruel handling, and his mind is insecure. He has been informed that I have summoned a physician to tend his wounds, but my telling may be already forgotten.’

‘Thank you, Lady Mary, an introduction and repeated explanation may be helpful in his acceptance of my presence.’ She has a pleasant aspect and has been thoughtful in her preparation. It is a wonder that a young woman of her disposition should be charged with the care of a tortured man in a place of grisly reputation.

I follow her into the chamber. It is a fair size, but with poor light. Only one window is unshuttered, and the flame of a single candle on a table sputters and protests at a waft from the open door. The walls are bare stone. A small fire takes some of the nip from the air. As my eyes become accustomed to the gloom, a bed appears in the far corner, and I surmise that the dark hunched figure under the covers is Somerville. Mary explains that only one of the three windows is glazed, and she assumed we would favour comfort over light. She takes the candle, lights another, and carries it to the bed.

‘Master Somerville, I have brought Doctor Constable to ease your discomfort.’ She speaks in a low soothing voice, as a mother to her babe.

The bundle of covers stirs as Lady Mary touches my arm, hands me the candle, and signals she will leave us. I pull up a stool, sit by the bed, and remove my bag of medicines from a shoulder. There is grunting and huffing as he struggles to rise, then a sigh as his body collapses. I hold the candle close, see his head, and… lurch back at the grotesque disfigurement of a face. Beneath a straggle of long fair hair emerges a swollen misshape with a deep cut to the forehead and scabbed holes in each cheek; one with a flap of raw pink flesh exposed.

I say, ‘I am Doctor William Constable. Lady Mary has asked me to tend your wounds. To begin, I will bathe your face.’

I make to rise and go to the table, but he moans and levers himself up on an elbow. He mutters a word I do not understand. He tries again. It is as though he speaks through a mouthful of pebbles. I move my ear to his mouth. I think I understand; he says ‘feet’. Does he wish me to examine them? I put the candle on the floor, hook my hands under his shoulders, and help him to sit. A big man, but weak with loose flesh around his bones, signifying he has been starved of food. He squeaks and groans pitifully until he is upright. He draws a breath and utters more words. Is one… ‘angel’?

Mystified at first, then I say, ‘Do I understand you refer to the Lady Mary as an angel?’

He nods his head slowly in confirmation. In his situation, it may be that any who show sympathy are regarded as extraordinary in their kindness. I lower the candle to his feet, which dangle over the edge of the bed. They are an ugly sight; bent, broken, and bruised. It appears his tormentors have taken a hammer or other weight to them. I hesitate to touch as I am sure the pain will be terrible. Instead, I delve into my satchel and remove a jug of Brandywine. There is a cup on the table. I hand him a full cup, saying he should drink to deaden the pain.

I pose questions about his injuries. Has he been racked? No. More broken bones? He grunts and points with difficulty to his loose arm. I loosen the sleeve of his blouse and gently press my fingers until he winces. His wrist is broken or disjointed. Through further questioning, I find he has burn marks on his chest and buttocks, with some blistered and weeping. The stench from his mouth causes me to blink and hold my breath. His tongue is crusted with dried blood and badly swollen, but I get no sense from him of how his facial injuries were made. The poor man is wrecked. I shake my head to dismiss thoughts of the men who took delight in the ingenuity of their cruelty. It will take some time to dress his wounds and ease his hurt.

He drinks four cups of Brandywine before I bathe his wounds, apply ointments, and wrap with cloth. It is a slow process and past noon before I have finished. I enlist Lady Mary’s help in the preparation of a hot soother of comfrey and willow bark, which he should take three or more times each day. I also leave him with a small jar of oil of cloves to apply to the tender areas of his mouth. There will be no profit in attempting conversation today. I must return tomorrow.



Praise for Paul Walker:

“Walker skilfully creates a treacherous world of half-truths, plots and duplicity... simmering with impending danger.” Michael Ward, author of Rags of Time.

"A gripping and evocative page-turner that vibrantly brings Elizabeth's London to life." Steven Veerapen, author of A Dangerous Trade.

"Full of convincing characters both historical and imagined." Peter Tonkin

Purchase Link

Pick up your copy for free with Kindle Unlimited subscription.




About the Author


Paul Walker

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of the Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first two books in the series - State of Treason and A Necessary Killing - were published in 2019. The third book, titled The Queen's Devil, was published in the summer of 2020.

Connect with Paul


Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview: Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from Berlin by Mary Ann Bernal

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview: Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from...: Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from Berlin By Mary Ann Bernal   Escape from Berlin Mark Dresdner’s cover is blown, forcing him to flee Eas...



Lose yourself in five tantalisingly delicious bite-size short stories that are filled with action, drama, crime and broken promises — Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from Berlin by Mary Ann Bernal is as enthralling as it is addictive.

Bernal is an author who always delivers, and I was really looking forward to diving into this anthology of short stories. All of the stories in this collection are rich in detail and highly entertaining. Not only are the stories immensely readable, but they are also impressively narrated. This is an anthology that is not only bold in its delivery but immensely successful as well.

 Each of the stories in this collection read like a snap-shot in time. What happened before, and what happens after, we are not always told, but I think that is what makes this collection so exciting. Bernal is an author who is fabulous at creating tension and anticipation in her writing. Bernal is also very gifted at creating believable characters and situations. I thought this collection was absolutely sublime, and I enjoyed every word, every sentence, every syllable.
  
Escape from Berlin was a wonderful story to start this collection. It is a desperate, heart-rending tale about war, loss, and betrayal. This story really tugged at my heartstrings. The protagonist is so brave and kind, which makes this story all the more heart-breaking. But it is also a reminder that nothing is fair in love and war.
  
The second book in this collection, aptly named Betrayal, tells the story of a woman who trusts her husband with her deepest darkest secret. This story had me reaching for the tissues — it is such an emotional story filled with fear, pain and a terrible sense of injustice. Bernal has penned a story that is not only rich in content but also in historical detail. I thought this story was simply brilliant.
  
Deadly Secrets is a story that is bursting with tension and drama. This crime thriller is filled with mystery and plot twists. I enjoyed this story very much, and I thought it was an excellent addition to the collection.
  
I found myself swept away by the narrative as Murder in the First hurtled towards its dramatic ending. I thought this story was tautly gripping and incredibly engaging.
  
The final story in the collection is called The Ritual. The Ritual was a fascinating story about a pagan cult. It is a desperate tragedy, and it was one of the stories that really impressed me with its ingenuity. I thought The Ritual was a fabulous story to end this collection with.
  
If you are a fan of thrillers, then I think you will find Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from Berlin by Mary Ann Bernal extremely agreeable. I really did enjoy all of the stories in this collection, and I cannot wait to read more from this very talented author.
  
I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.

The Coffee Pot Book Club.





Pick up your copy of
Scribbler Tales Presents: 
Escape from Berlin

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview — Scribbler Tales Volumes One - Five by Mary Ann Bernal

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview — Scribbler Tales Volumes One - Five b...: Scribbler Tales Volumes One - Five By Mary Ann Bernal Volume One Desperate Measures; Forbidden Lore; Forever Lost; The Hourglass; Sail with ...



Scribbler Tales Volume One – Five by Mary Ann Bernal is a collection of 25 fabulous short-stories that will entice, enthrall, and utterly enchant the reader. This is a book that you can dip into as time allows — it is absolutely perfect for a coffee break.

This collection opens with a mesmerizing industrial espionage thriller, which is tangled with a love story that is built on a web of lies. And thus, Bernal sets the tone for this collection. Each story is unique, but they are all equally gripping. Bernal lets her readers glimpse into some very troubled minds, so prepare yourself!

Sometimes the protagonists of these stories walk away unscathed, other times the antagonists are the victors. There are appalling acts of revenge, as well as desperate discoveries. This is a collection that really keeps a reader entertained, for the dramatic plot twists is enough to satisfy any lover of quality thrillers.

Bernal certainly has a novelist eye for the human detail, which gives these stories a real sense of authenticity as well as authority. These stories, as short as they may be, are tautly gripping from start to finish. They are also immensely readable and next to impossible to put down.

Revenge was one of my favorite stories in this book. In this quick read, we meet Angela Westin, a woman who seemingly has it all — a perfect marriage, money, and position. But under this happy facade is a woman who is trapped with a man whose illicit dealings destroyed their marriage. Driven to despair, Angela has no choice but to take matters into her own hands. The question is, does she have the courage to see it through to the bitter end? This story was written with such a gripping and compelling style that I completely forgot all about my coffee as I lost myself within the story.

Another story that I really enjoyed was Abducted. This cleverly crafted story is masterly executed. There are enough plot twists to cause a reader whip-lash, but it is also written in an easy prose style. The fast-paced narrative and the unexpected ending made this short-story incredibly entertaining.

In The Night Stalker, we follow the obsessive journey of a killer, while in Safeguard, we meet an antagonist whose clever manipulation of the medical professionals means she gets away with murder.

In Turning Point, we follow the work of an arsonist. While Brandi fears for her firefighter husband’s safety, she is completely unaware of how close the arsonist is. This short-story saw me sitting on the edge of my seat.

Bernal explores the devastating consequences of being falsely accused of rape in her short-story called Malice. This story was incredibly real in the telling, and also very realistic. To be accused of rape by a woman whom you had only met the once in a professional capacity nearly destroys Andrew’s life. I thought this story was exceptionally well written.

In The Hourglass, young Flair makes a covenant with Death. This story was engrossing and one that I simply could not read quickly enough as I was desperate to know if Flair would be set free from her obligation.

There are so many fabulous stories in Scribbler Tales Volumes One to Five that it was difficult to choose which ones to include in this review.  But be assured all the stories in this collection are wonderfully written and a real joy to any reader.

If you are a lover of thrillers, psychological murder mysteries, and paranormal adventures, then you will adore Scribbler Tales Volumes One to Five by Mary Ann Bernal. I cannot wait to get my hands-on Volume Two of what promises to be an equally enjoyable read. Bernal is the indisputable queen of short-stories.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.

The Coffee Pot Book Club.



 Pick up your copy of

Scribbler Tales 
Volumes One - Five

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Inspiration behind The Last King: The First Viking Age (The Ninth Century Book 1) by MJ Porter



An Author's Inspiration 
The Last King
England: The First Viking Age
The Ninth Century Book 1

MJ Porter

The Last King is set in the AD870’s in Mercia, one of the ancient kingdoms of England. If you’ve watched or read Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom books, then it’s just about where the first book starts.

I’ve long avoided trampling on the toes of the literary creation that is Uhtred of Bebbanburg. I’ve written about the seventh century, the tenth and the eleventh, but I had left the ninth well alone. But no more.

I was amused, while recently watching The Last Kingdom, to find a character called Coelwulf, no doubt ‘my’ Coelwulf, keel over dead during a feast in Wessex. This made me chuckle, and also made me appreciate that the archaeological find that inspired me to write about him is recent (2015) and has called into question just what was happening in Mercia (and Wessex) in the 870s. (For information on the coin find, please have a look here, https://www.ashmolean.org/watlington-hoard).

And so, The Last King. It’s very much an action thriller with a historical setting. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and gore (and swearing), but it is an attempt to explore this ‘other’ scenario, contrary to that in the Uhtred books, and contrary to much that has been written about Coelwulf in the past. He has been seen as a puppet of the Vikings. But, what if he wasn’t, as seems increasingly likely.

First and foremost, I approach my books from a historical perspective. But what I love, (and I really do love), is reading between the lines, toying with the might-have-beens, and the what-ifs. And Coelwulf, forgotten ‘hero’ that he might be, is a perfect vehicle for such an exploration of Mercia. And as a ‘Mercian’ by birth myself, it feels right to not let her get overshadowed by the might of Wessex, under what could just be, a perfectly written piece of political propaganda – The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – that has plunged Coelwulf into historical obscurity, and from which he can only emerge thanks to the ‘Two Emperor Coins.’ These hint that Coelwulf was not a Viking puppet-king. Was he perhaps someone who overshadowed even Alfred himself, and who, Alfred, in a fit of pique branded as a traitor in his chronicle of the times.

What if, indeed.

***



They sent three hundred warriors to kill one man. It wasn’t enough.


Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters.

Coelwulf, a fierce and bloody warrior, hears whispers that Mercia has been betrayed from his home in the west. He fears no man, especially not the Vikings sent to hunt him down.

To discover the truth of the rumours he hears, Coelwulf must travel to the heart of Mercia, and what he finds there will determine the fate of Mercia, as well as his own.

Purchase Links




***


About the Author

I'm an author of fantasy (Viking age/dragon-themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings, and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest), born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since AD1066. I write A LOT. You've been warned!

Connect with M J Porter: