Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Famine of Horses A Review

Greeting my friends and Houselings having started this theme of book reviews I thought we’d look at a spread of contemporary writers who have produced some good pieces of fiction and non-fiction in the Tudor Period.  Today it is the turn of PF Chisholm, whom for those of you who don’t already know is Patricia Finney and to be blunt she is an excellent writer of historical fiction.  Without being reduced to base grovelling and sycophancy, it is one of my aspirations that eventually my Red Ned Tuor Mysteries will be favourabley compared with her excellent Cary series.  So as you see I've got a pretty high target to aim for.

A Famine of Horses:  A Sir Robert Carey Mystery (Sir Robert Carey, #1)A Famine of Horses: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery by P.F. Chisholm

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is now Oh Gods some fifteen years since I first came across the first of PF Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey novels set in the politically complex Tudor England of the 1590s’. Queen Elizabeth’s fleet has beaten back the famed Armada and that threat at least for time has diminished and the kingdom basks in relative peace. However the northern border with Scotland it is not so quiet. Murder, cattle reiving and tower burning are all too common occurrences. So one more dead body found in the Debatable Lands shouldn’t make that much difference, except when it’s a Graham, and the head of that surname has a nasty reputation for vengeance. In to this cauldron of trouble steps Sir Robert Carey newly appointed Deputy Warden of the Western Marches. What Sergeant Dodd of the Carlisle garrison thinks of his new commander probably shouldn’t be put in print, but between them Cary and Dodd they have to solve two mysteries the ill timed murder of a Graham and the sudden ‘Famine of Horses of the title’. Alright that hasn’t given away anything that isn’t apparent from a quick view of the back cover blurb. As to the quality of the story, in short it is superb. PF Chisholm has a fine grasp of the character’s traits, they are all so very human and compelling. Sergeant Dodd for one is the epitome of the dour northern with a wry sense of humour and an intelligence that shouldn’t be underrated. As for Cary he comes with a very interesting history, he has to head north to escape his London creditors and recoup the fortune he doesn’t have. I’m not give much away in saying that his father Lord Hunsdon is the son of Mary Boleyn and that it is said he bore an uncanny resemblance to Henry VIII. That hint alone should wet your interest. The difficulties and scrapes Robert Carey gets into and his ahh unique ‘solutions’ very much carry the tale along to its not quite expected conclusion. In it all PF Chisholm has worked very hard to recreate the Borders region of the 1590’s as a living breathing culture alive with plots, mischief and mayhem. She hasn’t stretched facts or come up with wildly improbable story lines like some period writers. Instead this is honestly engaging with a very dry sense of humour. Most of all it’s a damned enjoyable romp for anyone who likes historical fiction. And yes it is worth every one of the five stars I gave it!

Regards Greg

The Liberties of London

The Queen's Oranges

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Drink fit for a Queen

Greeting to all my friends, fellow Tudor devotees and Houselings I hope you are all well at this time of Autumnal and down here Vernal Equinox, just remember at either end of the world it is day to celebrate and thus on that theme...
Drinking!  We all at least in the developed world take water pretty much for granted and when thirsty turn on the tap and grab a glass of pure (except for various chemical additives) water is very much the source of life, while you can go with out food for days or weeks four days without water and…
In the Tudor period for Red Ned Bedwell when he was thirsty after a heavy session at the gaming tables he didn’t ask for a refreshing tankard of water, no it was somewhat different.  Ned like almost anyone in Tudor England wet their whistle with small ale.  My God only the most poverty stricken, the insane or those tired of life drank pure water!

Especially in London, despite the constant argument on how clean the city was at this period, eyewitness accounts tend to err on the more foul than fair quality of the streets.  The stench and putrid condition of the Fleete Ditch came in for special mention in period complaints and reports.  As it was the Thames was the repository of all the foul scourings from the streets and the butcher's shambles after a good rain.  Thus a cup of Thames water was almost certainly a rather painful suicide from the dreaded bloody flux.  Now unlike a number of historians I strongly believe our ancestors weren't stupid they knew this, even if learned doctors of medicine waffled on about humours and miasmas.  They had (and to be honest it was probably a woman in one of the early Middle Eastern settlements) discovered that the act of brewing both purified the water and created a rather tasty and nourishing drink.  This was the common or small ale which unlike our modern beers had a lower alcohol content as well as a high proportion of protein, vitamins and minerals.  A quick perusal of the records of the Buttery of Hampton Court around 1540 shows that each servant was entitled to six pints of small beer per day with meat dishes and four pints on fish days.  It was consumed pretty much like we more decadent moderns guzzle energy and soft drinks, though it is possible that well made English small beer of the period did you less harm than our contemporary tipples.  When Tudors wanted to celebration a more potent brew with a higher alcohol content, sometimes called a double was passed around, according to some accounts this was also aged longer than small ale sometimes for up to one or two years. 

“The general drink is ale, which is prepared from barley and is excellent well tasted, but strong and intoxicating.”  According to Paul Hentzner a visitor from Brandenburg in the 1580’s
Recently a good friend of mine Wayne the Leatherworking Reverend has embarked on a very tasty series of reconstruction archaeology experiments based on the recipes from The Closet of Sir Kenholm Digby, Knight Unlocked.  He has been endeavouring to brew Tudor and Stuart period ales using full mash techniques appropriate to the period. Of course less the weevils and possibly some extra modern sanitation.  His results have been impressive and recently I’ve had the chance to try one a Hydromel as served to the Queen so this is it;

Take 9 litres of water, 0.5l of honey, half a ginger root, two cloves, small bit of fresh rosemary, splash of English ale yeast left over from the Cock Ale (I cheated instead using a dry ale yeast).
This only took about an hour to make, first simmer the honey, but don't boil it or you'll drive off the lovely aromatics.  Ferment in a sterilised brewing chamber as per a mead and bottle at the end of the fermentation process depending on the Specific Gravity reading maybe a week or so.  Personally I tend to go by taste and aroma as well as keeping a good eye on the rate of bubbles in the airlock.  Also remember this is a low alcohol version then 5 weeks in the bottle.

According to Wayne ‘It tastes like a honey-sweetened ginger beer’.
Here is the section it was based on from Digby

Take 18 quarts of spring-water, and one quart of honey; when the water is warm, put the honey into it.  When it boileth up, skim it very well, and continue skimming it, as long as any scum will rise.  Then put in one Race of Ginger (sliced in thin slices,) four Cloves, and a little sprig of green Rosemary.  Let these boil in the Liquor so long, till in all it have boiled one hour.  Then set it to cool, till it be blood-warm; and then put to it a spoonful of Ale-yest.  When it is worked up, put it into a vessel of a it size; and after two or three days, bottle it up.  You may drink it after six weeks, or two moneths.

Thus was the Hydromel made that I gave the Queen, which was exceedingly liked by everybody.
[The Closet of Sir Kenholm Digby, Knight Unlocked (1644), p36 in the 1669 edition]
The above link is to the whole downloadable book on Project Gutenberg.

After all that lets hope it doesn’t end up like this Tudor version
“Healthy but sickening to the taste.  It is cloudy like horse urine and has husks on top  Perhaps they used Thames water like some pilloried London brewers?

So in several weeks I’ll let you know how it turned out.
Regards Greg

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tudor Novels- Dissolution CJ Sansom

More Tudor Fiction

Good day to my growing legion of devoted readers.  First before we start this instalment of Red Ned’s Tudor blog I would like you to take a moment to think of your friends and neighbours who may be experiencing problems or difficulties, I mean have you actually asked them if they are okay?  Or like so many of us are you isolated by family stress, work or illness and now I think about it are you okay? 

Anyway here’s a little entertainment to brighten your day.  It has been too long since we looked at the state of Tudor fiction, for that I plead the pressures of writing and the long long struggle to get The Cardinal’s Angels ready for publishing.  While the plan was to release it first in ahh… February, ahh (cough, cough, embarrassed mutter) life and other trivial irrelevances got seriously in the way.  So while in theory the third Red Ned novel is soon to be available in Amazon Kindle I won’t stick my neck out and promise next week.  In the meantime back to the exotic, lively and treacherous world of Tudor Fiction. 
The book I’d like to review today is CJ Sansom’s first Tudor novel Dissolution, I must state here publically that while Red Ned Bedwell and Mathew Shardlake are both lawyers in Henry VIII’s London, there the similarity ends.  His work did not serve as an inspiration for Red Ned, nor is Ned an attempt to ‘cash in’ on someone else’s well deserved praise.  Though considering the excellent quality of Sansom’s series it is definitely a target for me as a writer to aim for.  So firstly, a thank you to those of you who’ve flatteringly compared me to Sansom, it is an accolade I will endeavour to fulfil.

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake, #1)Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very sound first novel

I must admit to coming to Sansom’s historical mystery stories only very recently, although I had been aware of the series for a couple of years. Since at the time I was writing my own collection set during the reign of Henry VIII and while my main character like Sansom’s Shardlake is a lawyer in London, Ned is but a lowly apprentice. So rather than be accused of plagiarism I stuck well clear until I’d finished my first quintal of stories. In fact I finally read my first Shardlake novel over Christmas- Dissolution. Put off by the publicity write up and a little wary of the use of a hunchback hero in Tudor times, I hesitated then daring all I took the plunge and dove in. On the whole I’m glad it did, though it is true that at the conclusion I found that I had to  seriously think about my reaction to the story. As a first novel it was a little rough around the edges with a few flaws in the characters, plot and historical interpretation which I personally found annoying and distracting. But I am admittedly a tad picky. Now for the positive, the overall quality was reasonable, interesting plot, a good attempt at fitting the characters to a ‘living time period’ good quality research for the story background, credible characters and a decent and engaging storyline. I feel that I can recommend it to anyone with a taste for historical fiction. I’d certainly recommend continuing through the series, his later work picks up dramatically in quality and suspense, stunningly so! As the budget allows I will be buying all of the Shardlake series.

Dissolution Amazon Kindle UK

Dissolution Amazon Kindle US

Regards Gregory House

The Liberties of London

The Queen's Oranges

View all my reviews