Friday, 31 January 2014

Review: The Tenth Saint by D.J. Niko

Dr Sarah Weston is an archaeologist working at a site in Ethiopia when she bumps into a stranger who tells her of a cave in the hills above her camp.  The man shows her shards of pottery that seem unusual and so, her interest outweighing her personal safety, she agrees to meet the man the following day and trek to the cave.  When she gets there, she finds strange markings and inscriptions that imply this is an undiscovered marvel.

She reports her findings to her mentor back in England and he is less than impressed with Sarah's lack of commitment to her current project.  He informs her that an American anthroplogist, Daniel Madigan, is joining her "dig" and will be keeping an eye on her as there are concerns she is not the person her sponsors want for their project.  Sarah shows Madigan her findings and it becomes apparent this could be the tomb of a lost Coptic Saint and the writings are a portent describing how and when the world will end.  What follows is a fast-paced, girls own adventure steeped in history and myth as Sarah and Madigan try to solve the mystery and stop the prophecy from coming true.


Okay, this is not strictly a historical fiction novel and for the purist readers of the genre who kindly follow my blog, I apologise for that.  But this is a very good story that will satisfy the historical element, excite those who like adventure, enthral those who love conspiracies (me!) and have you devour every twist and turn of the plot.

D.J. Niko has followed a well trodden path by writing in this genre, but the sign of a great writer is how they make the story unique, or give it an edge.  The use of a female protagonist who is beautiful but tough, single-minded but unbiased, is unusual but works extremely well.  Niko has found the perfect balance in her character to turn the stereotypical female heroine on its head, if I have a criticism it is that more should have been done to Daniel Madigan to make him unique as he is a bit too "Indiana Jones" and this I feel detracts slightly from Sarah Weston.

Overall though, this is a good read.  It is full of suspense, the historical theme has been well researched and the plot flamboyant.  This is a perfect book to read if you want a bit of comfort on a cold, wet day when you want some excitement.

I give "The Tenth Saint" 4 Crosses!

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Friday, 17 January 2014

Review: The Tudor Conspiracy by Christopher Gortner

It is 1553 and Mary Tudor is still firmly at odds with her half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.  There are rumours abound that Elizabeth, after being invited to Court, is now a prisoner.

Brendan Prescott is contacted by Elizabeth's spymaster Sir William Cecil and asked to resume his undercover personae of Daniel Beecham, to infiltrate the murky corridors of power and determine the exact nature of peril aimed at Elizabeth and to rescue her from a fate worse than death.  There is danger around every corner and the discovery of a cache of the Princess's private letters pulls Brendan, and the heir to the throne, into mortal danger once again.  In a palace where no one can be trusted and everyone seems to be a double agent, Prescott must once again use all his wits and intelligence to keep England's future monarch safe.


Once again Christopher Gortner has delivered what I would most definitely describe as an almost perfect historical novel.  Fictitious, yet utterly convincing, characters are interwoven seamlessly with real life people and the inventiveness of his plot is truly enthralling.

For those of you who enjoy fast paced, cleverly constructed novels of any genre, this one should be on your "to be read pile" and put as close to the top as possible.  Gortner is a master story-teller, his passion for history is obvious in his work and his research is flawless.  You realise you are being given an education in the Tudor period and the way people lived their lives in a time when being born into the "wrong" religion could be a death sentence.  He brings the past to life in a way only a few writers can.

The principal character, Brendan Prescott, is one you side with right from the very off & you root for him and his success.  There are times I did feel the danger was a bit too much, turning him into a Tudor James Bond, but it is a small criticism because this is a magnificent story.

I give "The Tudor Conspiracy" 5 Crosses!!

I am also awarding Christopher the prestigious "Golden Hammer and Anvil Shield Award" for this superbly entertaining and well written book.  

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Monday, 13 January 2014

Review: The Assassin's Mark by David Ebsworth

In 1938, Europe is on the brink of a second Great War in less than thirty years and the dark spectre of National Socialism is looming over several European countries.  The Spanish Civil War has been going on for two years and, in an arrogant show of confidence, General Franco has begun to operate "Battlefield Tours" - package holidays of the recent and famous war zones for tourists.

Jack Telford, a journalist with a left wing newspaper, is sent to report on the tours and tries to uncover the underlying reasons for the war.  However his eccentric holiday making companions along with a power hungry tour guide make his task difficult.  Then one of the tourists is murdered and Telford is captured by Republican guerillas, putting his life in danger as he tries to solve the murder and save his own sanity.


I know little of the Spanish Civil War and so I began reading this novel with a sense of anxiety, being out of one's comfort zone can be challenging can't it?  However, within a few pages I was hooked by David Ebsworth's wonderful story and eloquent, yet light, prose.  He quickly establishes characters and their personalities, providing you with the boundaries of "goodie & baddie" before flipping the whole premise on its head and bringing a whole new perspective to the story.

If you enjoy passionate characters, with a well-researched and deep historical plotline then you really need to read this book.  It has been crafted with exceptional care and whether you buy it on Kindle or in paperback, I can quite honestly say that this book is a keeper!

I give "The Assassin's Mark" 4 Crosses!

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Ebsworth's Mark - interview with David Ebsworth

First of all, Stuart, it’s a real thrill for me to do the interview. Thanks very much for arranging this home stop on the Book Tour.

You’re welcome. And maybe you could start by telling us how you developed the story for Assassins? I’d never heard about the background before.

OK, so it’s 1938, and Spain is in the grip of the civil war that had started two years earlier after an attempted military coup by General Francisco Franco. The story of the Spanish Civil War has been covered from lots of angles but I came across the previously untold fact that, in the middle of ’38, with the outcome still in the balance, Franco had not only set up an alternative government but had established a Tourist Department – and then circulated brochures around all of Europe’s travel agents, inviting tourists to visit his recently won battlefields. Extraordinary! An incredible propaganda exercise. But it worked. Something like 20,000 travellers took part in the tours over the following seven years and, of course, carried away Franco’s side of the complex conflict. So I thought: What if one or more of the people on the tour bus didn’t believe the propaganda? What if one or more of them had hidden agendas? What if a batch of unforeseen disasters befell these eccentric travellers? I hope readers will think it’s an original way to find out about this still relevant piece of European history.

I did some digging of my own on this, and found that a lot of the characters who feature in this story are real people. Far more than I’d imagined. Did that create problems?
Actually, I don’t think anybody else has spotted that. The characters who make up the bus-load of travellers are all fictional – though even some of them are based on real people. But the rest are mostly factual. As Franco’s armies slowly occupied each area of Spain, they replaced all the democratically-elected representatives with their own stooges, either from the military, or from the extreme Right-wing and fascist Falange Party. It still exists, by the way. And these were the people largely responsible for rounding up tens of thousands of socialists, communists, trade union leaders, poets and artists, and murdering them in what historian Paul Preston has quite rightly called “the Spanish holocaust”. So the tours would have met a lot of these people and I wanted – within reason – to get inside them a little. And, actually, there’s an astonishing amount of information available. So no, it didn’t create a problem. Though I’m always conscious that it might become so. The book’s selling reasonably well in Spain, even in English, so naturally there’s always a chance that the family of one of those people may pick up Assassins and not be happy about the portrayal.

I also realised that both Assassins and your previous novel, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, feature lots of stuff about spies. Is this a subject that intrigues you?
D’you know, I hadn’t thought about that before. Jacobites is set in 1745, mainly based in Lancashire and deals with the Manchester merchants who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie in his rebellion. But, yes, its anti-hero is based on the real-life spy, Dudley Bradstreet, who was almost single-handedly responsible for preventing the rebellion’s success. The Jacobite army managed to travel all the way south to beyond Derby, with not much more than 100 miles before they reached London. And there was nobody to stop them. But Bradstreet, posing as a scout for Bonnie Prince Charlie, told him a load of nonsense about English armies waiting to intercept them. The Jacobites lost their bottle, went back to Scotland, and the rest is, of course, history. In Assassins, I became fascinated by the dozens of attempts on Franco’s life – sometimes by professional spies and hit-men, sometimes by rank amateurs. And there was a whole espionage story about the British covert operations that may have helped Franco launch his fascist coup in the first place. But there’s no spying in the third novel. Honest!

Ah, the third book? What’s that about?
It’s set during the second half of the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. In a nutshell, it picks up the story where Michael Caine and the film, Zulu, left off. It’s told largely from a Zulu perspective and the title is The Kraals of Ulundi, due to be published in April-May.

And you write under a pen name. Can you tell us why?
When I started writing, I soon began to run into problems. There are some quite evil moments in Jacobites and I found it quite hard, personally, to delve inside those darker sides of human nature as myself. So I needed to develop an alter ego. And then I realised that this wasn’t hugely different from my earlier “day job.” I think most of us are different people in work than we are at home with our families. Then, of course, I began to realise exactly how many of my own favourite authors have written under pen names, and I imagine that some of them must have similar reasons for doing so - C.S. Forester, Daniel Defoe, Ellis Peters, George Orwell, J.K. Rowling, John Le CarrĂ©, Lewis Carroll, Patrick O’Brian, Stendhal and dozens of others. Apart from all that, when I finally started thinking about marketing, I realised that “Dave McCall” simply doesn’t sound like the name of a historical fiction writer. Well, not to me it doesn’t! So the “David Ebsworth” brand was born. Ebsworth is a grandfather’s name so it feels right. Then, when I shut my workroom door each morning, I get straight into this alter ego and start to write.

You have a writing routine, then? How do you fit that into your day job?
I officially retired in 2008 so haven’t really got a “day job” any more. I do some voluntary work still but, mainly, I write. I start around 7.00am by word processing the most recent hand-written stuff that I’d worked on during the previous day. That’s important for me since it gets me straight back into the story without risking writers’ block. By the time I’ve finished this word processing, I’m “in the groove” and carry on with new word count until maybe 9.30am. Then I print out the morning’s work and take myself off to the swimming pool, do my lengths and mull over what I’ve done. An hour later usually sees me in Caffè Nero, making corrections and then hand-writing the next block of text. That’s the text that I put away until the following morning. During the afternoon and evening, I catch up with my marketing and any research that I need for the next section of the book.

When you say “marketing”, can you say a bit more about that?
Sure. It had never occurred to me that there’d be so much marketing if you want your books to sell. That sounds daft, but I genuinely hadn’t thought about it. When I was writing Jacobites, I never thought about anything except getting to The End. I just assumed that “somebody” would do the marketing for me if it even got published. But that “somebody” doesn’t exist and, by the way, it’s really no different for authors who are “traditionally” published. Though I caught on quickly, I think. I developed a marketing calendar with all the things I needed to do before publication (developing and regularly updating a website, arranging launch events, building a social media profile on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, etc); at publication (press releases and interviews, arranging book reviews); and post-publication (getting myself invited to author events, month by month, sometimes in bookstores but, more productively, doing lively presentations about the story backgrounds). Then it’s a matter of juggling all these plates and many more besides. But my main bit of marketing is the production of a monthly e-newsletter that goes out to family, friends, supporters and readers – whose e-mail addresses I’ve been painstakingly accumulating over the past three years, since Jacobites was published. I’ve never really found time for regular blogging – and the newsletter is a great substitute.

That’s a good tip. Can you give any aspiring writers just one more?
Yes. To keep writing. I think we have to be hugely talented or extremely lucky to sell huge quantities of books at our first attempt. But if you build up some readership with your first book, do some basic marketing, then go on and write a second, then a third, and so on, that readership will grow incrementally and irrevocably. I’m certain that there must be a mathematical formula for this. I just don’t know what it is! The main thing is to keep writing books – doing it well, naturally – and getting them published, even if you can only manage eBook editions. Write them and they will come! In today’s market, I think it’s both quality and quantity of our output that spells success.

You said right at the beginning that today’s interview is part of a Virtual Book Tour. So how long does that last and where do you go next?
It’s another marketing tool, of course – helping to raise the book’s profile. But I hope it’s also good entertainment for bloggers’ readers too. I decided to run this one over two weeks and I was really lucky that so many of you were interested in Assassins. Here’s the link to my web page with all the details...
...but, basically, I’ve got stops with UK bloggers in London, Bristol, Devon and Essex, US bloggers in Ohio, Colorado, Texas and Wisconsin, and a Canadian blogger in Manitoba.
Tomorrow I’ve got a stop with Tori Turner (Lily Loves Indie) here... well as Elaine (Novel Pastimes) in Ohio...

If anybody’s interested in receiving Dave’s e-newsletter, you can contact him through the comments below, or though his website (here’s the page with his most recent newsletter:, or by e-mail at: