This reviewer admits to not knowing the differences between Medieval times and the Middle Ages, hawks and falcons. So I use them interchangeably, my apologies to semanticists. Over the years. I've found that I'm not the only one. Take Brit Robert Lyndon, a falconer, who titled his historical novel about them Hawk Quest.
Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon, 750 pp, 2012 Sphere pocketbook. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 450 baht.
He set the story in 1072. Six years after the Norman conquest, William is King of England and the Domesday Book has yet to be completed. Wars are the order of the day throughout Europe and the Middle East _ Christians vs Christians and Muslims, Muslims vs Muslims and Christians. There has been a schism between Latin (Rome) and Greek (Constantinople) churches.
Lyndon doesn't so much describe all this, but milks the latter half of the 11th century (less the First Crusade, not yet reached; perhaps in a sequel). Wars for millennia were fought at least as much for the ransoms of captured noblemen as for land. The populace not massacred were sold into slavery.
In Hawk Quest the Seljuk Turks have captured a Norman knight. The ransom their Emir demands is four rare falcons, which were worth a fortune. The family, living in Northumbria, taps a Frank soldier-of-fortune to obtain them and make the trade. A mercenary Villon is unexcelled with sword, bow and lance.
For 750 pages _ twice as long as need be _ Villon's adventures take him and those latching onto him to Greenland, Russia, Constantinople and Anatolia. Not to mention flashbacks to cities in Spain, provinces in France. He still has nightmares of being made a prisoner in an earlier fray, kept in a dungeon for 11 months, escaping, finding his wife with another man and killing both.
Much is made of falcons in actions, their temperaments. Detailed are Villon's battles with Vikings and just about everybody with a pole and axe. Hungry peasants cannibalise hung outlaws. Rescuing the Norman knight, who is cruel and bloodthirsty, our hero watches him sink in a bog and kills the brothers in single-combat.
The Emir offers Villon a position, a lady at court offers herself. But then the tale makes a sea-change and hops on Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code bandwagon _ the search for a fifth Gospel that will shake the Church to its foundations (that of Doubting Thomas).
Robert Lyndon has his merits, but says in pages what could better be said in paragraphs. He should read Bernard Cromwell to get the knack of good pacing. Still, when's the last time you heard about Prester John? And how many Gospels are there really?
Not Dead Yet by Peter James, 534 pp, 2012 Pan pocketbook. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 350 baht.
An incredible escape
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes set the standard for literary sleuths a century ago. Many readers found his personal life at least as interesting as his public persona. Lighting his meerschaum pipe, playing the violin, taking a 7% solution of cocaine. His friend and biographer Doctor Watson.
With few exceptions _ I recall nothing about Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot except that he's a Belgian police inspector _ authors of crime thrillers feel impelled to describe in detail what the detective does when he's off-duty. It is has little, or usually no relevance to the investigation at hand.
A case in point is British scrivener Peter James, who has penned a series of detective novels featuring Superintendent Roy Grace, major crimes, Sussex.
His CID jurisdiction is Brighton Hove and its environs. Married to Sandy, she walked out on him after decade. Unable to find her, he met and wed Cleo.
Sandy pops up in every story, travelling around Europe ''finding herself'' and secretly keeping abreast of what Grace is doing. A two-dimensional will-o-the-wisp, hints are dropped that she may decide to return. Not that he wants her to for Cleo is pregnant. Apart from her bouts of jealousy, he was never happier.
In Not Dead Yet, American superstar Gaia Lafayette is making a Regency movie in and around the landmark Brighton. Most of her numerous fans adore, but one stalks her and is deeply offended when she snubs him. Enraged, his adulation turns to hate. His death treats taken seriously, Grace and his team are assigned to protect her.
Hundreds of pages are spent detailing the responsibilities of every member on the cinema set, including Gaia's own security guards. A temperamental diva, the icon of millions isn't popular to those in her entourage. Red herrings are dragged before us. Does one of them mean to rid the world of her? A body is found.
This reviewer is less than delighted with the denouement in a tunnel beneath the Pavilion. A crazed transvestite who imagines he can out-act his former idol? In the penultimate chapter, the superintendent unbelievably survives a cliffhanger that would have been miraculous for Pearl White on the silent screen.
Like contemporary scribe James Patterson, Peter James goes in for multi-chapters, 127 here. FYI : Sandy still doesn't show. Cleo has the baby. Gaia is nominated for an Oscar. The writer produces a book a year. So it won't be too long before I give you an update on the life and times of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace.
About the author
- Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer