With matters carpet and domestic impinging on my time this week I am very conscious that I am falling behind on my reviews with about six waiting to be done. I am going to get a move on and try and catch up this week. Here goes with the first one.
The Flowers of Evil - Simon Acland. This is the second book about the life of Hugh de Verdon the Crusader Knight introduced in Simon's first book The Waste Land which I reviewed here. I was very impressed with this title and very much appreciated the fact that it was called 'an Entertainment' meaning we should take it as such and not necessarily a serious historical tome. Having said that, the historical content of the two books is really gripping and engaging and it is obviously a period of history the author loves and he certainly knows his stuff. The continuing story of Hugh is, as before, told by the dons of St Lazarus College, Oxford who have persuaded one of their alumni a Famous Author to write the story for them, all royalties etc going to help the cash strapped college. As in the the Waste Land, ghastly things mirroring the fate of characters in the historical section afflict the various dons with deaths occurring on such a regular basis that Oxford puts Midsomer in the shade when it comes to body count.
At the start of this volume we take up where we left off with Hugh being betrayed and imprisoned by Hasan of the Assassins. We find that Hugh has managed to fool his captor into thinking he has converted to Islam and is now loyal to him. He and Hasan's son set off to murder an old adversary, Baldwin of Bolougne and after a series of bloody and disastrous adventures with death and destruction all the way, Hugh finds himself in the company of the Knights Templars. I have always found the Templers fascinating and when I first read about them as a teenager (probably in some glamorised book) I thought they were terribly romantic and noble. Well, of course we know they weren't, they were just as vicious and venal as most other warriors at this time. Doesn't take long for Hugh to fall foul ofthem (he never seems to have much luck) so off he hies and decides to be a hermit for a bit and lives in a cave near an obliging monastery and there he stays. Of course, by the end of the book he is discovered and is off again and this is where The Flowers of Evil ends and we await the third instalment to see what he gets up to next.
As I said, death and destruction are being meted out to these dons who have the temerity to use Hugh's story for profit and, though the Research Assistant in the first novel has been jailed for one of the deaths in The Waste Land, they are still continuing so who is doing them? The Best Selling Author has a nasty fright when he awakes one night to see two gray figures in his room holdings swords and obviously not there to congratulate him on his matchless prose. It is a slightly spooky ending and Simon Acland drops a real hint here who the mysterious assassin is and I just hooted with laughter and can't wait for the next book to find out what is going to happen next.
Though I can see the amusement and wit in the juxtaposition of the historical narrative with the modern day goings on of the college and its Dons, I think the author's real strength lies in the past rather than the present. The characters of Hugh de Verdon and those he meets during his adventures are more solid and real than the dons who are caricatures in many ways. But, perhaps that is how they are meant to be? They are almost like a Greek Chorus coming onto the stage in between scenes to tell us what is going on and to give us a giggle which they do admirably.
Another enormously enjoyable book from Simon Acland and my thanks to him for sending me a lovely signed copy and I am sorry it has taken me so long to read and review. I hope it was worth the wait....