The mutilated body of a child is discovered behind a disused synagogue. The brutal Spanish Inquisition accuses the Jewish community of ritual child murder - the ‘blood libel’. The Inquisition will not rest until all heretics are punished.
Isaac Alvarez, a lawyer working for the royal estate, is a reluctant convert to Catholicism who continues to secretly practice Judaism. When his childhood friend is accused of the murder Isaac is torn between saving him and protecting his family. Isaac is convinced that solving the murder will disprove the blood libel, save his family, and protect his faith.
As the Inquisition closes in, how far will Isaac go to protect both his family and his faith?
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Please tell us a little about yourself.
I started out as an English teacher. I had a long career in global education during which I wrote and edited professionally. I’m originally from London, England but now live with my family in Dubai.
When did you start writing?
I’ve always written. When I was at primary school my ambition was to be a journalist but when that didn’t work out, I went into teaching English as both a first and second language. But I always enjoyed teaching Literature the most. I’m not a writer who feels the need to write every day, neither do I keep a journal, but I’m usually thinking about writing something.
What projects have been published?
My debut novel Blood Libel was published in January this year. It won a prize at the Emirates Literature Festival in 2020 and I launched it at the February 2021 event. It’s the first of the Isaac Alvarez mysteries. I’ve also published The Lost Book of Hours, a short story that shows Isaac undertaking his very first investigation – at home. It’s available for free when you sign up to my newsletter at www.michaellynes.com.
Tell us about Blood Libel
Blood Libel is set in Seville in 1495 at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. A child is brutally murdered and the Jewish community is accused by the Inquisition of ritual killings – the ‘blood libel’. Isaac Alvarez, a lawyer with the royal estate, is commissioned by King Ferdinand to find the identity of the real killer. Isaac is a reluctant convert from Judaism to Catholicism – a ‘converso’. He is determined to find the killer to defend his faith and protect his family before the Inquisition discovers his secret.
The novel is a mystery but at the heart of it is a family drama. We see at close quarters how the Inquisition sets families and neighbours against each other. We discover how the terror affects individuals and tears families apart. I was a little concerned that the violence would be off-putting to some readers, but early reviews have put my mind to rest. One reviewer said, “I was afraid that the horrors of the Inquisition would overwhelm me but the story centered more on how ordinary people suffered through the uncertainty of the times.”
How did you select the title of your novel?
The title comes from the anti-Semitic slur of the blood libel. One of the first cases of this was Simon, who was two years old when he was found dead in a cellar in the Italian city of Trentino at Easter 1475. The Jewish community was immediately accused of murder and of using the blood of children for ritual purposes - a blood libel. Fifteen Jews confessed, under torture, to the murder and were executed. The Catholic Church subsequently venerated Simon as a martyr.
What was your inspiration?
I learnt about the story of Simon of Trentino whilst spending time with Moisés Hassan-Ansélem in Seville. He is knowledgeable and passionate about the little-known Jewish history of Seville. I was fortunate that Moises read the book and offered invaluable advice. I wanted to explore the parallels with our contemporary concerns about how we can accurately discern truth from fact. How do we know what is true in the age of ‘fake news’? Although the medium has changed, it's astonishing how little human behaviour has.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on Books 2 and 3 of the series. They will be linked and move on to explore how the Muslim community, the Mudejars, were treated during this time. Isaac will travel to Granada and Northern Africa as members of his family are placed in great jeopardy. I’m hoping to publish Book 2 later in 2021 and Book 3 in early 2022.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m binge reading Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series which, if you haven’t read it, I’d strongly advise giving a go. It’s a little quirky but if you read Donna Leon or Andrea Camilleri you will probably like it. For research, I’m reading Blood and Faith by Matthew Carr which is a very readable, comprehensive account of Muslim Spain from 1492-1614. I’m also just about to start Medieval Bodies by Jack Hartnell which has some fabulous, and occasionally gruesome, pictures.
What do you like to do in your free time when you're not reading or writing?
At the moment all my free time seems to be spent on aspects of publishing and marketing books! But I love playing football and building huge Lego sets with my twelve-year-old son Danyal, going for long walks and occasional runs.
Do you have any advice for other authors?
There’s so much advice out there but I think two simple things are important: read as widely as you can and find out what works for you in the writing process. The other thing I’ve found invaluable is taking the courage to share my work with other writers on a regular basis.
And finally, can you tell us some fun facts about yourself, such as crossed skydiving off my bucket list.
I’m not sure it counts as fun, but I completed the London Marathon five years ago.
Michael is an author of historical mysteries who writes under the pen name of M Lynes. He has a particular interest in early 16th century Andalucia. He is fascinated by the interplay between cultures, globalization and religious intolerance of that period in Spain’s history. The ‘Isaac Alvarez Mysteries’ are set against this rich background. He won a prize for his fiction at the 2020 Emirates Literature Festival and is an alumna of the Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course.
His debut novel ‘Blood Libel’, the first full-length Isaac Alvarez Mystery, was published in January 2021. Isaac, a lawyer working for the royal estate, must solve a brutal child murder to protect his family and his faith from the Spanish Inquisition.
Michael is hard at work on the second novel in the series and planning the third. He is originally from London but currently lives in Dubai with his family.
Connect with Michael