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The Qwillery

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Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

Island of the Mad
Author:  Laurie R. King
Series:  Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 15
Publisher:  Bantam, June 12, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 320 Pages
List Price:  US$28.00 (print);  US$14.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780804177962 (print); 9780804177979 (eBook)

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling series—“the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today” (Lee Child).

With Mrs. Hudson gone from their lives and domestic chaos building, the last thing Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, need is to help an old friend with her mad and missing aunt.

Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, since the loss of her brother and father in the Great War. And although her mental state seemed to be improving, she’s now disappeared after an outing from Bethlem Royal Hospital . . . better known as Bedlam.

Russell wants nothing to do with the case—but she can’t say no. And at least it will get her away from the challenges of housework and back to the familiar business of investigation. To track down the vanished woman, she brings to the fore her deductive instincts and talent for subterfuge—and of course enlists her husband’s legendary prowess. Together, Russell and Holmes travel from the grim confines of Bedlam to the winding canals and sun-drenched Lido cabarets of Venice—only to find the foreboding shadow of Benito Mussolini darkening the fate of a city, an era, and a tormented English lady of privilege.

Doreen's Thoughts

In her series about Mary Russell, Laurie R. King has partnered the infamous Sherlock Holmes with a wife that is his intellectual and deductive equal, despite being half his age. When asked by her best friend to investigate the disappearance of an aunt who has been voluntarily living in Bedlam, Mary would like to decline, but both she and Holmes agree that a trip to Venice, where Lady Vivian might be hiding, would be preferable to staying home.

Venice itself almost becomes a character itself, as King describes it. The islands, the waterways, the various inhabitants – all of them are described in great detail and reverence. It is obvious that King has done a significant amount of research about the city, both past and present, and has probably walked down the streets and perhaps attempted to row a gondola as Mary does in this novel.

The timeframe for the novel is the early 20th century, the start of the Roaring Twenties, when both Americans and Europeans gathered in Venice to party and forget the horrors of the Great War and the potential for another. As an added touch of verisimilitude, King adds the character of Cole Porter as a peer of Holmes. The description of Porter, his marriage, and his part in the trick that Russell and Holmes play in the end all jibe with what has been written in history about this musician.

As is usual with King, she has more to tell than just a mystery. She implies her political views by adding the fascist characters and describing their brutal actions and ways, in line with the takeover of Italy by Benito Mussolini. She also reaffirms her feminism by drawing on the ways in which most women were treated during this period, particularly those unprotected single female family members who had little to no money of their own and no place else to go. Including Mussolini’s wife as a patient at the mental hospital that Mary visits was another nice historic touch.

Overall, the mystery that King lays out is complicated enough to keep a reader interested, but she includes enough details that the conclusion makes total sense. The series just keeps getting better and better, with vivid descriptions, wry humor, and interesting history.

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King - Excerpt

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King - Excerpt

Chapter One
          Sherlock Holmes and I stood shoulder to shoulder, gazing down sadly at the tiny charred corpse.
          “She should never have left us alone,” I told him.
          “She had no great choice in the matter.”
          “There’s always a choice.”
          “Strictly speaking, perhaps. But it’s best that she disappear, at least for a time. Even putting aside the death penalty, I cannot see her thriving in prison.”
          I had to agree. “She is probably better off in Monte Carlo.” And so saying, I snatched up the smouldering pan and tipped my attempt at a chicken dinner into the rubbish bin. Our long-time housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, had recently abandoned us, selfishly choosing freedom over being tried for murder—and thereby risking our lives to my poisonous culinary skills. “Cheese sandwiches, then? Or shall we walk up to the Tiger?”
          He glanced at the kitchen clock. “Do you suppose Tillie might have a table, up at the Monk’s Tun?”
          Three hours later, we were making our leisurely way towards the gate in the stone wall encircling our house. I had pocketed a torch as we left, but the midsummer sky held enough lingering brightness that we did not need it as we returned across the Sussex Downs. Tillie had outdone herself, with a perfection of cool dishes on a warm afternoon: subtle lettuces, an iced soup, cold meats, hot rolls, and a strawberry tart the likes of none in the land.
          The one drawback was, the Monk’s Tun had begun to collect a reputation. Not that I begrudged Tillie her success—although I might wish we had not chosen to stop in the same night as a carload of Young Things on their way up from Dover.
          Not that they were drunk, merely festive; nor were they loud, exactly, merely difficult to ignore. They were my age—in fact, two of them I dimly recognised: a young man with dark Byronic curls who had been the year before me at Oxford, and a girl whose face appeared in the illustrated Society pages of the newspapers. My eyes kept going to them, two sleek girls in Paris frocks, two clean, tanned lads in casually worn suits that would have cost Tillie’s barman a year of his salary.
          The second time Holmes had needed to repeat something, he craned around to look at the table of merrymakers on the other side of the old room.
          “Friends of yours?”
          “Good heavens, no.”
          “Then why are you watching them so closely?”
          “I wasn’t. Not really. Just—they seem like an alien race, down here in Sussex. Don’t you think?”
          His grey eyes fixed on me, but before he could speak, Tillie came up to greet us, and the next course arrived, and the moment was lost.
          However, Holmes never forgot anything. When he pushed open the gate an hour later, he said, “Russell, do you regret the choices you made?”
          Little point in pretending I didn’t understand. “Regret? Never. I might occasionally wonder what life would have been, had things been different, but it’s mere speculation. Like . . . like trying on a dress I’d never actually wear, just to see what it feels like.”
            He closed the gate and worked the latch. We picked our way through the grassy orchard, hearing the faint texture of sound from the hives—drones cooling their homes from the day’s heat. Near the house, the sweet odour from the old-fashioned climbing rose drew us forward.
          Mrs Hudson had planted the flower, long before I knew her. Mrs Hudson, now gone away, to . . . But before yearning could overcome me, the night was broken by the jangle of the telephone bell.
          Neither of us hurried to catch it.
          And neither of us suggested, when the machine ceased its clamour before we were halfway through the kitchen, that we ask the Exchange to restore the connection.
          Instead, Holmes pulled a corkscrew from the drawer and a bottle of chilled honey wine from the cooler. I fetched a pair of glasses from the cupboard. We left the door open, to chase away the aroma of cremated chicken, and settled into our garden chairs. The night smelled of blossoms and honey. The low pulse of waves against the Sussex cliffs obscured the sound from the hives. The wine was cool, but faintly sad as its summer freshness faded, giving a hint of bitterness to come.
          And the telephone rang again. At this time of night, the sound was ominous.
          With a sigh, I put my half-empty glass onto the stones and went through the terrace doors.
          I spoke our number by way of greeting, to be answered by a voice from the local Exchange. “Evening, Mrs Holmes, sorry to ring so late but the lady said it was an emergency, so I told her I’d keep trying you. And the girl at the Monk’s Tun said you’d left there. Do you want me to connect you again?”
          Life in a rural area is rich in many things, but privacy is not one of them. “Hold on a moment, I’ll get Holmes.” The word emergency generally summoned Sherlock Holmes.
          But to my surprise, she said the woman had asked for me.
          “Did she leave a name?”
          “She said to tell you it was Veronica Fitzwarren.”
          Ronnie. Oh dear.
          I pulled up the chair we kept near the telephone, and sat. “Yes, you’d better put me through.”

Chapter Twenty
          The train came to its end on Sunday, two days and four nations after we’d stepped out of our Sussex door.
          The ideal approach to Venice is from the sea, standing at a ship’s rails as the faint traces of buildings take form through the mists. She resembles (and I must agree with tradition here: Venice is feminine) a queen seated on a throne in a wide, fat field. Solitary and regal, she waits in patience for those who would come to do homage.
          Instead of that entry to la Serenissima, we puffed across two miles of water on hundreds of stone arches, waited while the customs men came to check our hand luggage, and climbed down into the cacophony of any railway station on the planet. The salty air churned with the sounds of shouting porters and crashing equipment, customs inspectors and street urchins, the hiss of venting steam and the slams of compartment doors, cries of greeting and the occasional shriek of a traveller seeing her bags vanish into the crowd.
          And yet, this was different. There was no stink of idling taxis, for one thing, no clop of hooves or rumble of motor lorries or whine of motor-cycles. We were in a port city, yet there was no sign of heavy-goods traffic. Groups of laughing foreigners suggested a resort town, yet bright holiday clothing was more than balanced by workaday garments. Uniforms of various kinds put the crowd into order, funneling traffic from iron rails to waterborne craft.
          I watched the familiar scene with pleasure, until my eye was drawn to an oddity: two black-clad figures created an eddy in the swarm, in a way that even the customs men did not. Most of the people giving them wide berth seemed unaware that they were doing so, but even the laughing tourists subsided a touch as they approached the Blackshirts, and their laughter resumed only when they were out of earshot from the two Fascist representatives.
          I shook of the creeping awareness of the outside world and turned my mind to our next moves.
          The previous Friday, when Thomas Cook & Co. had proven a broken reed and failed to come up with adequate rooms, I had dredged the name of a hotel from the depths of memory and sent them a wire. We had left Sussex before any response could arrive, and since the tourist season was clearly well under way—despite heat, Fascists, mosquitoes, and the stench of summer canals—I only hoped that someone had recalled my mother’s name with enough affection to offer us a servant’s room under the sweltering eaves.
          As I prepared to join the milling crowds heading towards the water and thus the Venetian equivalent of a taxi, I became aware that there was a person standing before me, very still and quite close. I adjusted my eyes, and found a trim young man in hotel livery, with a name in fancy stitching on his breast:
Beau Rivage
          “Signore and Signora Russell?”
          “Yes,” Holmes said. Thanks to Mycroft, he even had a passport in the name of Sheldon Russell, an ebony-haired gent, pampered and well glossed from the tips of his shoes to the teeth behind his pencil-thin moustache. Thin disguise, but along with the change in his stance and the languid air he wore, even someone who knew him would hesitate, wondering, might this be a cousin . . . ?
          “The keys to your luggage, please? I shall see it through Customs. Come, your boat is just here.”
          I followed his pointing finger, and saw a sleek steam launch with a man in the same uniform. I held out the keys and my valise, but told him, “We’ll walk, thanks. It’s been a long train ride. Oh—and tell the maid not to unpack the bags. We prefer to do so on our own.” And had, ever since the day one inexplicably thorough hotel maid had happened across a hidden compartment, dutifully removed the contents for cleaning, and sent a bullet whizzing through the next room.
          The hotel man bowed, cheerfully acknowledging our English eccentricity, accepted my tip, and trotted to the hotel launch with our valises.
          As he explained, hands gesturing, that these mad English guests wanted to walk to the hotel, the even sleeker launch beside it drew in its gangway and let out a belch of steam. This one bore the name Hotel Excelsior, and it turned away with an air of disdain, as if to show that its guests did not need to wait along with hoi polloi. The launch went serenely off, ignoring the gondolas, cargo transports, fishing boats with furled sails, many varieties of shallow-hulled canal boats, and one lone rowing skiff.
          Holmes scowled at our own waiting launch. “Do you suppose we shall ever see our possessions again?” he asked me.
          “It’s quite a good hotel, Holmes.”
          “All the more reason for a thief to pick their jacket out of a laundry.”
          Was I being naïve, gullible—touristic? I did not think so. “Venice has little serious crime, and a very clear sense of honour.”
          “Amongst thieves,” he grumbled, so I slid my arm through his and urged my husband and partner towards the foot-bridge linking the modern world with the timeless city known as la Serenissima.
          This most unlikely of cities grew out of the waters centuries ago, a refuge from chaos following the disintegration of the Roman Empire (another power that kept the trains running, metaphorically speaking).
          Its residents expanded their literal footholds in the lagoon by driving trees down into the mud and perching buildings on top. Before long, its ships ruled—and plundered—the known world.
          In the process, Venice gave rise to an idiosyncratic, oddly democratic, and utterly ruthless system of government. The Doge and his Council were absolute rulers, and yet a constant and precarious balance of power ensured that no one man—or even family—could establish a permanent authority over the others. A Doge’s salary was small, forcing him to maintain his interest in healthy commerce. After a Doge died—and the number of Doges who failed to succumb to natural causes served as a cautionary tale to each successor—his estate was reviewed, and pillaged if there was found any trace of misdoing.
          This inborn system of stalemate proved popular with the Venetians themselves, since it allowed them to carry on the business of business while the government squabbled and bickered and compromised itself into stability. It also, incidentally, laid the groundwork for America’s three governmental branches, designed to frustrate each other into tiny increments of progress.
          For eleven centuries, the Venetian system held—until Europe on the one hand took to the seas and cut out the Venetian middleman, while the Ottomans on the other side grew powerful enough to block the formerly bottomless stream of trade from the East. When Bonaparte passed through Venice in 1797 on his way to a more important enemy, he decided, like any lesser tourist, to ship home his pick of the city’s riches. “I shall be an Attila to the state of Venice,” he thundered. Since the Venetian Navy consisted of but a dozen galleys, its Doge abdicated, and a thousand years of Republic quietly ended.
          Under the Bonaparte régime, La Serenissima lost her independence, her authority, her vast agricultural hinterland, and a great deal of her art. (Most of which, to be honest, had been stolen in the first place.) Stripped and powerless, she was thrown to Austria in the peace accord. But her stones remained. Like many other crossroads of trade—Jerusalem, Cairo, Tokyo—the wealth of the city lay indoors, hidden from passers-by behind inscrutable faces.
          As inscrutable as the faces of the residents.
          “Venetians seem to have a very clear sense of Us and Them,” I mused. “Or rather, Us and You. Anyone who isn’t Venetian is by definition a customer, brought for the express purpose of having money removed from their pockets. But like any people who spread out across the world, they’re not fussy about how people claim residency. If you eat at a restaurant three times, you’re part of the family. If you hire a gondolier for a season, you’re expected to hire him the next time you show up, or God help you.”
          As we walked, as my reflections on Venetian history eventually brought me back to the idea of our luggage sailing off with a clever thief, I felt Holmes glance down at me in growing consternation. Finally, he dropped his arm.
          “Russell, how are you so familiar with this place?”
          It is very seldom that one can achieve superiority over Sherlock Holmes, but I concealed my gloating expression behind a serenity fitting of our locale.

Chapter Twenty-Two
          We were on our balcony at dawn, watching the city creep into existence. Shapes emerged from the darkness, shy, deceptive. Across the San Marco basin, the pale front of Palladio’s San Giorgio took on substance: a domed outline, the tower. Off to my left grew the hump and jumble of trees in the public gardens, their organic shapes foreign in a city where soft referred to marble and lead. The pale curve of the Riva degli Schiavoni described the water’s edge before its route veered towards the Arsenale, that centuries-old ship-yard that had been the base of Venice’s immense power. Venice was full of that kind of invisible pull, with patterns and shapes that only a knowledge of history would explain—and even then, mere explanation was rarely sufficient. It was a city with a feminine face over masculine muscles. Where larch pillars sunk in mud held up palaces of Istrian stone—stone that itself was a product of the sea. A place where one’s main floor was above the ground, where a thousand years of work could be wiped out by a wave, where a city ruler could be felled by an anonymous note or a labourer’s family sleep beneath a Tiepolo fresco.
          Venice begged for metaphor, and at the same time, defied any attempt at reducing it to words, notes, or pigment. For centuries, Venice had fascinated artists of the ineffable, keeping Tintoretto and Titian and Veronese busy with one attempt after another at capturing the essence beneath its surface beauty. The city was a poem one never truly understood, a piece of art that kept pulling the eye. This must be what music was to Holmes: a surface texture that suggested a deeper meaning.
          The island across from me shimmered beneath the growing dawn. I could now see masts from the marina at San Giorgio’s base. Closer in, a gondolier plied his way towards the Grand Canal, and I became aware of his voice, greeting the rising sun with song: “O sole mio . . .”
          And with cliché, the magic shattered and I laughed aloud.

[From Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King,
pub date June 12, 2018]

Island of the Mad
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 15
Bantam, June 12, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 320 Pages

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King - Excerpt
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling series—“the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today” (Lee Child).

With Mrs. Hudson gone from their lives and domestic chaos building, the last thing Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, need is to help an old friend with her mad and missing aunt.

Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, since the loss of her brother and father in the Great War. And although her mental state seemed to be improving, she’s now disappeared after an outing from Bethlem Royal Hospital . . . better known as Bedlam.

Russell wants nothing to do with the case—but she can’t say no. And at least it will get her away from the challenges of housework and back to the familiar business of investigation. To track down the vanished woman, she brings to the fore her deductive instincts and talent for subterfuge—and of course enlists her husband’s legendary prowess. Together, Russell and Holmes travel from the grim confines of Bedlam to the winding canals and sun-drenched Lido cabarets of Venice—only to find the foreboding shadow of Benito Mussolini darkening the fate of a city, an era, and a tormented English lady of privilege.

Review: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

The Murder of Mary Russell
    A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes
Author:  Laurie R. King
Series:  Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 14
Publisher:  Bantam, April 5, 2016
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages
List Price:  US$28.00 (print); US$13.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780804177900 (print); 9780804177917 (eBook)

Review: The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes series weaves rich historical detail and provocative themes with intriguing characters and enthralling suspense. Russell and Holmes have become one of modern literature’s most beloved teams. But does this adventure end it all?

Mary Russell is used to dark secrets—her own, and those of her famous partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes. Trust is a thing slowly given, but over the course of a decade together, the two have forged an indissoluble bond.

And what of the other person to whom Mary Russell has opened her heart: the couple’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson? Russell’s faith and affection are suddenly shattered when a man arrives on the doorstep claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s son.

What Samuel Hudson tells Russell cannot possibly be true, yet she believes him—as surely as she believes the threat of the gun in his hand. In a devastating instant, everything changes. And when the scene is discovered—a pool of blood on the floor, the smell of gunpowder in the air—the most shocking revelation of all is that the grim clues point directly to Clara Hudson.

Or rather to Clarissa, the woman she was before Baker Street.

The key to Russell’s sacrifice lies in Mrs. Hudson’s past. To uncover the truth, a frantic Sherlock Holmes must put aside his anguish and push deep into his housekeeper’s secrets—to a time before her disguise was assumed, before her crimes were buried away.

There is death here, and murder, and trust betrayed.

And nothing will ever be the same.

Doreen’s Thoughts

The Murder of Mary Russell is the 14th novel from Laurie R. King in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series which also includes several short stories. Because of that, I recommend that readers start with the first novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

For the most of the series, Mary Russell has been the narrator, with occasional chapters focusing on Sherlock Holmes in the third person. In The Murder of Mary Russell, King takes a huge step away from her former format and focuses on Clara Hudson, Holmes’ housekeeper. This not only is a departure in style, but also leads the reader to believe that Mary herself may be dead, ramping up the suspense.

The story starts innocently enough with Mary waiting at home for her husband, Holmes, to return, when a young man appears at the door looking for Clarissa Hudson, Mrs. Hudson’s apparent former name. Samuel Hudson claims to be her son and aims a gun at Mary. Then the story immediately changes and begins relating the history of Clarissa, alternating with Holmes’ desperate search for Mary and Samuel, after finding them missing with signs that one or the other is dead. Clarissa’s history changes a reader’s entire perception about the mild-mannered housekeeper and her role in Holmes’ life.

I absolutely loved this book. It probably is my favorite in the entire series and really breathes new life into not only the myth of Sherlock Holmes, but also King’s work. The story about a young poor girl masquerading as one of the ton, the aristocrats of the Victorian age, is slightly reminiscent of the old romance novels that I used to read as a teenager. But this one is darker, more vivid, and definitely more sinister. It also introduces a young Sherlock Holmes, just beginning his career as an investigator, and expands upon one of Sir Conan Doyle’s earliest mysteries.

Without giving away the secret of the title, I was thoroughly satisfied with the ending. King has revitalized her series. Where she goes from here is a mystery, but I will read anything else she writes, hoping it is half as good as The Murder of Mary Russell.

Review: Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

Speaking in Bones
Author:  Kathy Reichs
Series:  Temperance Brennan 18
Publisher:  Bantam,  July 21, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  $28.00 (print); $14.99 (digital)
ISBN:  9780345544049 (print); 9780345544056 (digital)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs
No one speaks the language of suspense more brilliantly than Kathy Reichs, author of the acclaimed Temperance Brennan series. In Speaking in Bones, the forensic anthropologist finds herself drawn into a world of dark secrets and dangerous beliefs, where good and evil blur.

Professionally, Temperance Brennan knows exactly what to do—test, analyze, identify. Her personal life is another story. She’s at a loss, wondering how to answer police detective Andrew Ryan’s marriage proposal. But the matter of matrimony takes a backseat when murder rears its head.

Hazel “Lucky” Strike—a strident amateur detective who mines the Internet for cold cases—comes to Brennan with a tape recording of an unknown girl being held prisoner and terrorized. Strike is convinced the voice is that of eighteen-year-old Cora Teague, who went missing more than three years earlier. Strike is also certain that the teenager’s remains are gathering dust in Temperance Brennan’s lab.

Brennan has doubts about working with a self-styled websleuth. But when the evidence seems to add up, Brennan’s next stop is the treacherous backwoods where the chilling recording (and maybe Cora Teague’s bones) were discovered. Her forensic field trip only turns up more disturbing questions—along with gruesome proof of more untimely deaths.

While local legends of eerie nocturnal phenomena and sinister satanic cults abound, it’s a zealous and secretive religious sect that has Brennan spooked and struggling to separate the saints from the sinners. But there’s nothing, including fire and brimstone, that can distract her from digging up the truth and taking down a killer—even as Brennan finds herself in a place where angels fear to tread, devils demand their due, and she may be damned no matter what.

Doreen’s Thoughts

Speaking in Bones is Kathy Reichs’ 18th novel featuring Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist who splits her time between North Carolina and Montreal, Canada. Her novels also are the basis for the TV show, Bones. In this story, Tempe has just received a marriage proposal from her long-time love, Andrew Ryan, and she is unsure how to respond. We also see a good deal of her mother, Daisy, who suffers from severe mental illness.

The basis of the mystery itself is a set of bones which may or may not belong to a missing girl. This girl also may suffer from serious mental illness herself. Tempe meets Hazel “Lucky” Strike, a websleuth who believes she has connected the girl with the bones. However, the girl is not the only missing person, and the mystery only deepens as Tempe investigates a fringe church splintered from Roman Catholicism.

What I appreciate most about these stories is the research that Reichs obviously has done, not only in her real-life profession as a forensic anthropologist, but also on the topics that occur in her novels. In this case, the reader learns about web-sleuthing through online sites dedicated to helping find missing persons and solve cold homicides, the haunted lights of Brown Mountain, diseases that cause fingers to lose fingerprints, and mountain rescue procedures.

I also appreciate the interactions that Tempe has with her family – her mother, her sister, and her daughter, not to mention her ex-husband and her potential fiancé, Andrew Ryan. In spite of her professional expertise, Tempe does not have her personal life as well organized. In fact, she agonizes for most of the story over how to handle Ryan’s proposal and why she is hesitating. She struggles with an aging parent as well as a grown child fighting in Afghanistan. She suffers from heartburn and neglects to eat properly or exercise regularly. Worse than all of that, she puts off handling her taxes until the last minute. She is a well-rounded woman with whom I can identify.

I thought I had solved the mystery several different times, but the story twists, in a good way, into areas that I never expected. I cannot say more without spoiling the story, but I did like how it ended. I could see the various steps that Reichs included to lead you to the ending. I do get tired of how often Tempe rushes to disaster, but at least she has learned to text her fellow officers first when she makes a stupid decision to visit the potential killer in their lair. Overall, another good addition to the Temperance Brennan canon.

Interview with Robert Masello

Please welcome Robert Masello to The Qwillery. The Einstein Prophecy was published on August 1, 2015 by 47North.

Interview with Robert Masello

TQWelcome to the Qwillery. What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Robert:  I’m a pantser who wants to be a plotter. I so envy my friends who can plot out a whole novel ahead of time so that they never have those terrible night sweats when you’re halfway through writing a book and you suddenly realize you have no idea where to go next. Plotting ahead has just never worked for me, though. Give me an outline and five minutes later I depart from it.

TQIn addition to being a fiction author, you are a journalist and television writer. How does this affect your novel writing?

Robert:  Writing journalism taught me to respect and meet my deadlines; editors had no patience with you when you left them with a hole in their newspaper or magazine. And TV writing taught me to think hard in terms of character arcs and pace (I have a tendency to get languid in my story-telling).

TQYour latest three novels are The Medusa Amulet (2011), The Romanov Cross (2013) and The Einstein Prophecy (2015). Do these novels have anything in common?

Robert:  Yes, they are all what I would call historical thrillers with a supernatural twist. In the Medusa, I explored the Italian Renaissance through the eyes of the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini; in the Romanovs, I wrote about the end of the Russian dynasty and the rise of the Spanish Flu; in the Einstein book, the new one, I’ve written about Einstein’s tenure at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and the creation of the atomic bomb.

TQDescribe The Einstein Prophecy in 140 characters or less.

Robert:  I don’t Tweet, so already I’m lost. But set in 1944, it’s a mix of ancient history and modern physics, in which a mysterious ossuary holds the key to the fate of mankind, and Einstein becomes instrumental in the realization of its powers.

TQTell us something about The Einstein Prophecy that is not found in the book description.

Robert:  Einstein spent the last years of his life tormented that his theories had laid the groundwork for the development, and deployment, of atomic bombs. A lifelong pacifist, he was terribly dismayed to have helped bring this catastrophic force into the world.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Einstein Prophecy?

Robert:  Tons. I read several biographies of Einstein, in addition to many books and articles about ancient Egyptian history and Biblical lore. The book mixes those things together. I also had to study up a bit on The Theory of Relativity and quantum mechanics. It was a nightmare.

TQWho was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest, and why?

Robert:  The easiest was my tortured and wounded hero, an Army vet named Lucas Athan. I gave him everything from the scholarly bent I have to the headaches that I suffer from myself. The hardest character, far and away, was Einstein. I did not want this very great man to come off as silly or unconvincing in any way.

TQWhich question do you wish someone would ask about The Einstein Prophecy? Ask it and answer it!

Robert:  Did your impression of Einstein change as you researched and wrote the book?” Yes. Although I knew enough to admire him for his great breakthroughs in the realm of physics, I had no idea how much I would come to like him as a man. Almost everyone he met came away with an impression of a kind and decent and idealistic man, cultured, sophisticated, yet at the same time entirely natural and accepting.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Einstein Prophecy.

Robert:  I’m partial to the quiet moments. After Einstein has loaned some cough drops to an Arab scholar named Rashid, who has also taken refuge from a storm in the cavernous interior of the Princeton University chapel, Rashid watches him go: ‘As if to confirm his impression that Einstein lived with one foot in the material world and one in some other, Rashid couldn’t help but notice, as the scientist walked down the dimly illumined nave, that he passed from beams of light into patches of shadow, and that even on a day as chilly and wet as this, he wore no socks. No wonder he carried cough drops.’ 

TQWhat’s next?

Robert:  I’m already at work on a very challenging novel about another one of my heroes, Robert Louis Stevenson. To write it requires living under a rock for many months to come, and I am not looking forward to that. That’s the worst part of being a writer – having to lock yourself away from the world for so many hours of each day and night. I live like a vampire.”

TQThank you for joining us at the Qwillery.

Robert:  It was my pleasure. Now, where’s my rock?

The Einstein Prophecy
47North, August 1, 2015
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 326 pages

Interview with Robert Masello
As war rages in 1944, young army lieutenant Lucas Athan recovers a sarcophagus excavated from an Egyptian tomb. Shipped to Princeton University for study, the box contains mysteries that only Lucas, aided by brilliant archaeologist Simone Rashid, can unlock.

These mysteries may, in fact, defy—or fulfill—the dire prophecies of Albert Einstein himself.

Struggling to decipher the sarcophagus’s strange contents, Lucas and Simone unwittingly release forces for both good and unmitigated evil. The fate of the world hangs not only on Professor Einstein’s secret research but also on Lucas’s ability to defeat an unholy adversary more powerful than anything he ever imagined.

From the mind of bestselling author and award-winning journalist Robert Masello comes a thrilling, page-turning adventure where modern science and primordial supernatural powers collide.


The Medusa Amulet
Bantam, February 28, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 528 pages
Hardcover, April 26, 2011

Interview with Robert Masello
Benvenuto Cellini, master artisan of Renaissance Italy, once crafted a beautiful amulet prized for its unimaginable power—and untold menace. Now the quest to recover this legendary artifact depends upon one man: David Franco, a brilliant but skeptical young scholar at Chicago’s world-renowned Newberry Library. What begins as a simple investigation spirals into a tale of dangerous intrigue, as Franco races from the châteaux of France to the palazzos of Rome in a desperate search for the ultimate treasure—and an answer to a riddle that has puzzled mankind since the beginning of time. Aided by a beautiful young Florentine harboring dark secrets, pursued by deadly assassins, and battling demons of his own, Franco must ultimately confront an evil greater than anything conjured in his worst nightmares.

The Romanov Cross
Bantam, March 5, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 512 pages

Interview with Robert Masello
Nearly one hundred years ago, a desperate young woman crawled ashore on a desolate arctic island, carrying a terrible secret and a mysterious, emerald-encrusted cross. A century later, acts of man, nature, and history converge on that same forbidding shore with a power sufficient to shatter civilization as we know it.

Army epidemiologist Frank Slater is facing a court-martial, but after his punishment is mysteriously lifted, Slater is offered a job no one else wants—to travel to a small island off the coast of Alaska and investigate a potentially lethal phenomenon: The permafrost has begun to melt, exposing bodies from a colony that was wiped out by the dreaded Spanish flu of 1918. Frank must determine if the thawed remains still carry the deadly virus in their frozen flesh and, if so, ensure that it doesn’t come back to life.

Frank and his handpicked team arrive by helicopter, loaded down with high-tech tools, prepared to exhume history. The colony, it transpires, was once settled by a sect devoted to the mad Russian monk Rasputin, but there is even more hiding in the past than Frank’s team is aware of. Any hope of success hinges on their willingness to accept the fact that even their cutting-edge science has its limits—and that the ancient wisdom of the Inuit people who once inhabited this eerie land is as essential as any serum. By the time Frank discovers that his mission has been compromised—crashed by a gang of reckless treasure hunters—he will be in a brutal race against time. With a young, strong-willed Inuit woman by his side, Frank must put a deadly genie back in the bottle before all of humanity pays the price.

The Romanov Cross is at once an alternate take on one of history’s most profound mysteries, a love story as unlikely as it is inevitable, and a thriller of heart-stopping, supernatural suspense. With his signature blend of fascinating history and fantastic imagination, critically acclaimed author Robert Masello has once again crafted a terrifying story of past events coming back to haunt the present day . . . and of dark deeds aching to be unearthed.

About Robert

Interview with Robert Masello
ROBERT MASELLO is an award-winning journalist (New York Newsday, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, etc.) television writer (Charmed, Sliders, Poltergeist: the Legacy) and the bestselling author of many novels and nonfiction books, including Blood and Ice, The Medusa Amulet, and The Romanov Cross. A native of Evanston Illinois, he studied writing at Princeton University under the late, National Book Award winner Robert Stone, and served as the Visiting Lecturer in Literature at Claremont McKenna College for six years. Today, he lives and works in Santa Monica, CA.

His recently-released novel, a supernatural thriller entitled The Einstein Prophecy, held onto the #1 spot in the Amazon Kindle store for several weeks this summer.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @RobertMasello

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