Category Archives: Reviews

Two wonderful reviews


I have been a devoted Mary Renault fan almost all my adult life. For me no book quite rivals The King Must Die, except perhaps Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall - and this from a first class English Literature graduate and a secondary school English teacher of 27 years standing! I have spent decades looking for something as good without success, until that is I recently discovered the Last Hero, on the day of my 53rd birthday. Admittedly I haven't finished it yet, but I am finding it spellbinding. De Bernieres (I am a great fan of his too) was quite right in his praise: it is just like Renault. The prose is tightly composed with none of the fussiness of similar novels in the genre; and the period details are most convincing. Simply put when I'm reading this book I find myself there, with the characters of the story! Thank you so much for making my dream of another novel of the quality of The King Must Die come true. If you have any plans to set  another novel in this time period I would be delighted to hear about it.
(Stephan Smart via website) 

I am always excited to see a new book out by Hilary Green. It amazes me that someone who writes such wonderful, gripping and exciting stories has trouble getting her work published when there are other authors out there who write terrible books and hit the bestseller list. After her last set of books which took place during the first world war, Hilary Green takes us back to world war two once again and this time we follow the escapades of two teenagers, half French, half British as they try to make their way back to England to join the fight for the allies. Along the way they are faced with much adversity, but also make friends and gain the respect of the resistance fighters for their bravery. Their mother also has a bit of a side story as she struggles to accept that the Germans occupying her country and her home are just ordinary people who dislike the war as much as she does. Like all the books I have read by Hilary Green this was tough to put down, and even better the ending left me thinking there could be a sequel. I for one would love at least one more story involving these wonderful characters. I know that their adventures and acts of bravery are far from over as there is still at least three more years left before V-E day by the end of the book. I can only hope there will be a sequel or two out of this story. I will be eagerly awaiting Hilary Green's next book, no matter what it's about. (Leigh on Amazon)


Review of ‘The Children of Tantalus’ and ‘The Road toThebes’ by Alice Underwood and Victoria Grossack.



(Tapestry of Bronze series)

by Alice Underwood and Victoria Grossack

These books are a fascinating foray into the world of Greek mythology. The writers have succeeded in taking the ancient legends of Pelops and Niobe and re-telling them as exciting and romantic novels. Pelops, the younger son of King Tantalus of Lydia, chooses exile after being attacked by his own father, and his sister Niobe runs away with him to escape a forced marriage. Their subsequent adventures take them to Athens and then to Pisa, where King Onomaius is challenging all suitors for the hand of his daughter Hippodamia to a chariot race. If they are beaten, their lives are forfeit and their heads are exhibited on stakes in front of the palace. In a thrilling account of the race Pelops, aided by Niobe, who arranges to sabotage the King’s chariot, wins, kills Onomaius and takes his throne.

From then on Pelops’ behaviour becomes increasingly unstable and autocratic, while Niobe’s apparently hopeless love for the the musician Amphion takes centre stage. We are introduced to the complex politics of the various city states and the varying characters of their rulers, which are woven into the ‘tapestry’ of the series’ title. There are enough plot twists to keep you turning the pages and the characters are vivid and sympathetic enough to make the reader care about their fates.

My only reservations arise from the sense that, in making their story appealing to a modern reader, the authors have lost the sense of strangeness, of a very different way of life and system of belief, that we get from the myths themselves. The gods are frequently mentioned and the need to honour and appease them motivates the actions of the protagonists; temple building and animal sacrifices are important ways of placating them. But I missed the sense of all-consuming power which placed religious ritual at the very heart of society. This was an era when, not many years ago, the King was ritually slaughtered every spring and his blood spread on the fields. Also, I feel that the character of Niobe, appealing as it is, does not completely fit the period. In their effort to create a feisty heroine to fit modern tastes the writers have given her competences that I do not believe a woman of that period could have had. Niobe is brave and intelligent, which could be true of a woman of any era, but her scepticism about religion and her ability to organise complex building projects seem to belong to the modern world.

Perhaps as a writer who has immersed herself in a study of Mycenean civilization, I am unduly critical. These caveats apart, I can recommend these books as an enthralling excursion into a world which is, sadly, becoming less and less familiar.


 This is a remarkable book. The author, Tom Harper, succeeds in combining a story set in the 4th century BC with a modern thriller; a discussion of philosophy with dramatic action; myth with mysticism.

In the first story thread, the narrative is put into the mouth of the philosopher Plato and the chapters are headed by quotations from his various writings. But this is not the assured, clear-thinking Plato that we see from his writing but a middle-aged pupil of Socrates still feeling bereft from the loss of his mentor and wrestling with fundamental questions. He travels to Sicily in search of Agathon, another of Socrates’s pupils, and en route he encounters the proponents of other philosophies, notably the adherents of Pythagoras, who believe that numbers hold the key to the universe. Pythagoras saw a close connection between numbers and music, and music is a recurrent theme throughout the book. Harper’s thesis is that something happened to Plato during his time in Sicily which brought him to a state of enlightenment, which is expressed in his later work.

The second story, which is intertwined with the first, is about Jonah, a singer-songwriter with a rock group. Here the musical theme is repeated and Harper is very acute on the way music can transport us into a different state of being. The connection with the older narrative is made through Jonah’s wife, Lily, an archaeologist engaged in a dig in southern Italy where the ancient Greek city of Thurii once stood. The discovery of a golden tablet engraved with mystic instructions is the mainspring of the story. The instructions seem to be a guide to entering the Underworld and returning and a Greek magnate, desperate to learn the secret of immortality, kidnaps Lily. Jonah’s story is the tale of his desperate search for her.

The two narratives climax in a spine chilling descent literally into the Underworld beneath the volcano Etna on Sicily. Here the story switches between Plato and Jonah, as the fate of one mirrors the fate of the other. Dream and illusion are interspersed with reality until the protagonists and the reader hardly knows one from the other. Out of this chaos Plato finds the enlightenment he seeks and Jonah, a modern day Orpheus, leads his wife back to the living world.

This is a gripping story which expands both the emotions and the intellect.



I have been a fan of Atkinson’s writing for many years, both of the more ‘literary’ books like ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ and of her excursions into crime fiction with Case Histories . I like her way with words and the dry, ironic humour. But I have to say I was disappointed in this book.

As with ‘Human Croquet’, she has experimented with the idea of time. It is a theme which has fascinated many writers. The idea that it might be possible to turn back time to a crucial moment and alter the course of events is one which JB Priestley played with in ‘Dangerous Corner’ and ‘Time and the Conways’ and Martin Amis reversed it completely in ‘Time’s Arrow’. Robert Frost touched on the idea of a casual decision that alters the course of a life in ‘The Road Not Taken’. But Atkinson has gone much further. Since the days of Albert Einstein, the idea that time is not a current flowing ever onwards has interested physicists and philosophers and there is a theory that there may be parallel universes in which the same event may occur simultaneously with different outcomes. It is this concept that informs ‘Life After Life’.

The protagonist, Ursula, experiences repeated reincarnations but they are simultaneous, not sequential. Each one ends with her death, by various means, but then time turns back, she chooses a different path, and her life continues. Beginning with a chapter in which she dies at birth she experiences death by drowning as a child; falls from a window; catches the deadly flu that killed so many after World War l; is raped, suffers an abortion, a miserable marriage and death at the hands of her brutal husband; avoids rape and goes on to become a senior civil servant with a lover in high circles. During the Second War she might be killed in a bombing raid, or be one of the rescuers; or she might have become a German citizen and a friend of Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun. In each incarnation she retains some sense of the previous life, a feeling of deja vue or a premonition of impending doom; and this leads her in one episode to organise her life deliberately in order to become one of Hitler’s circle, so that she can shoot him before he starts the war.

We all know how it feels to look back at a moment in our lives and wish we could recall an angry word or change a decision. Sometimes it is amusing to speculate about how different our lives might have been. But we know it is not possible. We choose our path and have to follow where it leads us. We expect the same to apply to our fictional heroes and heroines. It is seeing how they cope with the exigencies and traumas that their choice throws up that intrigues and excites us. If every time something goes wrong for them they can simply turn back the clock and put it right, the story loses all dramatic tension. I am afraid this was what happened for me with this novel. Each time I turned a page and found Ursula’s life beginning again I mentally sighed ‘Oh, here we go again!’ And as the variety of outcomes became a virtual blizzard towards the end of the book that changed to ‘Who cares, anyway?’

My verdict? An interesting experiment, but in the final analysis not a successful one.

A POSSIBLE LIFE by Sebastian Faulks


I have to admit I found this book puzzling. I almost gave up after the first few pages but I’m glad I persisted, if only in an attempt to discover what Faulks is getting at. The book begins with the story of a young man who is recruited into SOE as a secret agent, is betrayed and finds himself in a Nazi extermination camp – events which Faulks himself covered so dramatically in ‘Charlotte Grey’. But here they are narrated in the flat, unemotional style of a police report and framed as just one of a series of occurrences in an unremarkable life. The narrative then jumps to the life of a poor working class boy in London at the end of the nineteenth century; then forward to a futuristic tale of scientific research in the late 21st century; back to a remote village in pre-revolutionary France and then to the rock and folk music scene of 1970s America. All these stories I found much more engaging than the first one, which seemed designed to keep the reader at a distance; but do they add up to something more than the parts? As far as I can make out, Faulks’s thesis is that the individual life is an illusion. We are all made up from the atoms and elements which constituted other people’s bodies in earlier times and the sense of the unique personal self is purely an biological accident of evolution. This is an interesting philosophical proposition, but in my opinion it is not enough to turn what is in essence a series of short novellas into a coherent whole.

Death Comes to Pemberley – review

 I was disappointed by this book. As a sequel to Pride and Prejudice I was hoping for something with the same vitality as the original, paired with P.D.James’s flair for ingenious plotting, but I found neither. Perhaps James was seeking to adopt a style more in keeping with the early nineteenth century, when the original book was written, but I found her prose plodding and verbose. Because so much of the story depends on a previous knowledge of events in the original book, there is a great deal of summarising of the ‘back story’, with characters reminding each other of past events in order to ensure that the reader is up to speed. Even when the plot moves on, much of the action takes place ‘off stage’ which again requires it to be related at second hand.

The murder mystery itself seemed to me to lack James’s usual flair for unexpected plot twists. There is only ever one suspect and as the evidence stacks up against him we know that at some point there must be a revelation that proves his innocence, but when it comes it struck me as unconvincing. The idea that a young man at the point of death, from some undisclosed sickness, could find the strength to deal the blow which leads to the victim’s death takes some believing, but even less credible is the fact that he waits months, until the suspect is brought to trial and found guilty, before confessing. He does not, after all, face any danger that he will be accused of murder in his turn, since the actual death was an accident; and he knows anyway that he has not long to live. There are other revelations to follow, but again they are all delivered at second hand.

Meanwhile, we have to sit though the inquest and the trial itself, where the same evidence is repeated over and over again by various witnesses. And when the final denouement is reached, this has to be explained to us repeatedly by each participant. This is interspersed with long internal soliloquys from Elizabeth and Darcy about the effects of their marriage on those around them, their responsibilities to Pemberley and its occupants, and their previous relationships.

There is a well known adage constantly quoted to aspiring writers; ‘Show, don’t tell.’ In this respect I am afraid ‘Death comes to Pemberley’ falls short.