Review: Publish and Perish by Anna Castle

In this fourth Francis Bacon mystery, author Anna Castle strikes a perfect balance among her lead characters, each pursuing his or her own life goals and his or her unique approach to solving the same mystery, the murder of a several writers hired to counter the pamphlets of a popular and witty critic of the Church of England sometimes. (Pamphlets were the popular media of the day.)

The reader is onto a secret known to Lady Alice Trumpington but not to Bacon or his clerk and her close friend, Tom Clarady. I won’t say what it is, even though it’s revealed to the reader fairly soon. Even at that point in the book, it’s such a wonderful revelation, I won’t spoil it. The secret adds a layer of fun to the men’s attempts to solve this aspect of the puzzle. It was a hard mystery to solve overall, with believable red herrings, and I never did figure it out, but when the solution was revealed, it made sense. I could see the clues and motives.

The themes of women’s roles and restrictions, the complexities of the law, and the politics of church and state may sound dense and heavy, but they’re not—not in Castle’s hands. The story is lively and colorful, with diverse settings ranging from the offices of the most powerful people in Elizabethan England to the rough neighborhoods and taverns where writers could be found. Sometimes collaborating, sometimes keeping things from each other, the three leads take the reader on a lively journey peopled with historical personages of the day.

Castle handles backstory well, giving just enough to keep the story flowing with clarity, so if you should decide to start here and go backward, the other stories wouldn’t be spoiled. However, I recommend beginning the series at the beginning and getting to know the characters.

Buy links: https://www.annacastle.com/francis-bacon-series/publish-and-perish/

 

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Review: Death by Disputation, by Anna Castle

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This second book in the Francis Bacon mystery series is a strong as the first. At times bawdy and rowdy, at times thought-provoking, it centers around outgoing and adventurous Thomas Clarady, student and first-time spy, but the scholarly Bacon plays a key role as Tom’s spymaster. The contrast in their characters and lifestyles gives depth and texture to the story. Castle weaves religious-political intrigue, murder mystery, and Tom’s colorful friendships and love life into a tightly-paced plot. The murder mystery and the spy story mix, and though the latter often takes the upper hand, the author keeps track of all the threads. Christopher Marlowe, who is portrayed with quite a flair, plays a role in both plot lines.

The writing is never pedantic, yet each scene is crafted with well-chosen historical details that gives the reader a full sense of the times—the smells, the sounds, the clothes and furnishings, and the beliefs and customs of Elizabethan England. Some historical novelists feel the need to dump all of their research into a book, smothering the story. Castle knows better. She has such a grasp of the times she can use settings, props and costumes as needed, to reveal and enhance characters and events, but never clutter the story. And speaking of costumes, there is a Shakespearian feel to various layers of disguises employed by some of the characters.

One particular scene I found fascinating and revealing was the Rogation Day event. It illustrates the contrast between the Anglicans and the Puritans and the tensions between them. While the issue of religious fanaticism in politics is serious, and the insights Tom gains into how it feels to be a member of such a zealous community are also serious, there are comic touches such as the conflict between two young ladies of opposing views, and Tom’s delightful response to it. I’m sure my neighbors heard me laugh. The balance between comedy and food for thought is just right—and suited to a story told primarily in Tom’s point of view.

The final chapter, amusingly, shows Tom from Bacon’s point of view, so different from how Tom experiences himself. At first the ending seemed a bit dry as the conclusion of such a vivid and juicy book, but then it struck me a sort of “after the ecstasy, the laundry” realism, as Francis Bacon gets on with getting on in the world.

Note: I recommend reading the series in order, starting with Murder by Misrule.

Sales links to buy from all e-book retailers can be found on

http://www.annacastle.com/francis-bacon-series/death-by-disputation

 

How I Choose a Good #Indie Book

Never bought an indie book before? Try it. A lot of readers haven’t, but it’s a low-risk adventure. I’ve paid as much $14.99 for a traditionally published e-book that I didn’t like, and I just paid $8.49 for one that’s only 67 pages. (Fortunately, I like it so far.) The most I’ve ever paid for an indie e-book is $4.99 and I’ve liked almost all of them. The only way I take traditional or indie publishing into consideration as a factor in choosing a book is that I love indie prices. Of course, there are a lot of other factors that go into my choice of a book, and this may explain why I’ve had such a satisfying indie reading experience. The following criteria have helped me find some great writers.

  • Have people whose opinion I respect given it good reviews? These might be people I know well on Goodreads, reviewers I follow on Booklikes, or personal friends, but they are all people who care about quality. I found Martyn V. Halm’s compelling Amsterdam Assassin Series this way. I’ve reviewed on one of the short stories in this series on this site, and all the books and singles on both Goodreads and Booklikes.
  • Is the author a member of Sisters in Crime? http://www.sistersincrime.org This has been a 100% reliable way for me to find good mystery authors. (By the way, though Sisters in Crime started as an organization to support women writing in the mystery genre, we have male members.) The organization educates its members with classes and workshops and discussion groups, and local and national chapter meetings. SinC’s “Guppies” group—short for the Great Unpublished—has many published authors who continue their membership because of the support they get and can give to new Guppies. I’ve never read a SinC member’s book that let me down. SinC members whose books I’ve reviewed on this site include J.L. Simpson, DV Berkom, Anna Castle and Diane Vallere. I’m currently half-way through SinC member Lois Winston’s hilariously inventive cozy mystery, Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun. Even the title made me laugh. Look for a favorable review coming soon.
  • Did the book earn a B.R.A.G. Medallion? This award for the best in indie writing isn’t a contest—it’s an ongoing process. Books submitted to the Book Readers’ Appreciation group are read and evaluated by numerous people, not just one or two judges or critics. I’ve never read a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree book that let me down. DV Berkom’s and Anna Castle’s books mentioned above earned B.R.A.G. medallions. (So did my murder-less mystery Shaman’s Blues, but of course I haven’t reviewed my own work.) If you’ve never read an indie book before and you like #mysteries and thrillers, you could start with one of these books. I think you’ll get your money’s worth—probably more.

Reviews:

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/two-reviews-the-daisy-dunlop-mysteries/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/review-designer-dirty-laundry-by-diane-vallere/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/review-murder-by-misrule-by-anna-castle/

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/review-the-body-market/

To find the books not linked to reviews, Shaman’s Blues and Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun (and many more) go to

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com/books-by-genre-mystery/

Review: Murder by Misrule, by Anna Castle

History, Mystery, and Mastery of Both

 CastleMurderbyMisruleElizabethan England comes to life in this colorful, tightly plotted murder mystery. It follows the classic conventions of the genre creatively. When the plot takes a surprise turn—it’s a big surprise. The characters are three-dimensional and original. The middle-class working women give depth to what could have been told as a man’s story and still worked well enough. The young lawyers-in-training are complex, lively characters, and their tutor Francis Bacon is the perfect historical personage to cast as a detective, with his knowledge of law, his scientific thinking, and his strong, somewhat quirky personality. It was fascinating to meet the great thinker at twenty-five years of age, early in his career.

Anna Castle did her research. Her dialog feels true to the times without being stilted or archaic. She portrays the clothing, the social customs, the law, law school and the manners of the queen’s court, as well as the details of life for the working people, without being pedantic, integrating the details into active, suspenseful scenes. I double-checked the one thing I thought might be an anachronism—a song—and found that it actually is that old. I should have trusted her. An author this good wouldn’t mess up a little thing like that. From the brightest and wittiest scenes to the darkest, every page rings true. The dances and the masque and the scenery were wonderful. The scenes in Newgate prison were grimly accurate. If you’ve ever doubted that an indie book could be as polished as a traditionally published work, give Murder by Misrule a try. I think it could change your mind.