#BookReview The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings by Dan Jones

The Tale of the TailorAbout the Book

One winter, in the dark days of King Richard II, a tailor was riding home on the road from Gilling to Ampleforth. It was dank, wet and gloomy; he couldn’t wait to get home and sit in front of a blazing fire.

Then, out of nowhere, the tailor is knocked off his horse by a raven, who then transforms into a hideous dog, his mouth writhing with its own innards. The dog issues the tailor with a warning: he must go to a priest and ask for absolution and return to the road, or else there will be consequences…

Format: Hardcover (96 pages)             Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 14th October 2021   Genre: Short Story

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My Review

The medieval ghost story on which The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings is based was first recorded in the early fifteenth century by an unknown monk and transcribed from the Latin by the great medievalist and author, M.R. James in 1922.  The book is Dan Jones’ own retelling of the story.

I confess I found this a curious little book not least because the actual story takes up only a small part of it. The rest of the book is made up of an introduction, in which Dan Jones relates how he first became aware of the story and M.R. James’ transcription of it, and a historical note about Byland Abbey where the story was first recorded.  Most strangely, the book also contains the text of the original story – in Latin. I suspect only Latin scholars will find this of much interest, although the inclusion of M.R. James’s annotations on the text (in English) is an interesting feature.

It was the mention of M.R. James that first drew me to the book as, like Dan Jones, watching one of the BBC adaptations of his ghost stories was a Christmas tradition in our house. Without having access to M.R. James’s original transcription of the story it’s quite hard to judge what Dan Jones has changed or added to his version. It certainly has some vivid images, such as Snowball the tailor’s encounter with a great dog, described as smelling of ‘pure and ceaseless death and of the scuttling things that live in the permanent dark’. This demonic figure brought to mind Night of the Demon, the film version of the M.R. James story ‘Casting The Runes’; the steps Snowball takes in order to protect himself whilst doing the spirit’s bidding made me think of certain scenes in Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out.

Although The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings has some ghoulish moments, I wouldn’t say it was especially scary, certainly not as spine-tingling as some of M.R. James’s ghost stories such as ‘The Mezzotint’, ‘Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad’ or ‘The Ash-Tree’. Judging by the pictures I’ve seen, the hardcover edition of the book would make an attractive and unusual gift.

I received an advance copy courtesy of Head of Zeus via NetGalley.

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Dan JonesAbout the Author

Dan Jones is a historian, broadcaster and award-winning journalist. His books, including The Plantagenets, Magna Carta, The Templars and The Colour of Time, have sold more than one million copies worldwide. He has written and hosted dozens of TV shows including the acclaimed Netflix/Channel 5 series ‘Secrets of Great British Castles’. For ten years Dan wrote a weekly column for the London Evening Standard and his writing has also appeared in newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, GQ and The Spectator.

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#BlogTour #BookReview Ghosts of the West by Alec Marsh @RandomTTours @AccentPress

Ghosts of the West BT Poster

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Ghosts of the West by Alec Marsh. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Headline for my digital review copy via NetGalley.

Ghosts of the West Cover -2About the Book

When daring journalist Sir Percival Harris gets wind of a curious crime in a sleepy English town, he ropes in his old friend Professor Ernest Drabble to help him investigate.

The crime is a grave robbery, and as Drabble and Harris pry deeper, events take a mysterious turn when a theft at the British Museum is soon followed by a murder.

The friends are soon involved in a tumultuous quest that takes them from the genteel streets of London to the wide plains of the United States. What exactly is at stake is not altogether clear – but if they don’t act soon, the outcome could be a bloody conflict, one that will cross borders, continents and oceans…

Meanwhile, can Drabble and Harris’s friendship – which has endured near-death experiences on several continents, not to mention a boarding school duel – survive a crisis in the shape of the beautiful and enigmatic Dr Charlotte Moore?

Format: Paperback (272 pages)            Publisher: Headline Accent
Publication date: 9th September 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

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My Review

Ghosts of the West is the third book in the Drabble and Harris series. I haven’t read either of the previous two books – Rule Britannia and Enemy of the Raj – so it took me a little bit of time to get to know Sir Percival Harris and Professor Ernest Drabble, especially as the author plunges the reader straight into the mystery. I think I would have benefited from having read the earlier books in the series to learn more about the backgrounds of Harris and Drabble. For example, how they met, how Harris earned his knighthood, and their ages. (They turned out to be much younger than I had imagined.) Harris is a journalist for whom it is ‘always the story’ whilst Cambridge University professor of history Drabble acts as his sidekick much in the manner of Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Their initial enquiries into the theft of artefacts lead them to attend a Wild West Show staged in lavish style, albeit conforming to the stereotypical views of the time – the Indians definitely being the ‘baddies’. The only truly authentic element of the show is an elderly Native American, Black Cloud. As Harris and Drabble interview him as part of their investigation the reader gets a lesson in American history from the perspective of the Native American people. It becomes clear what a raw deal they’ve had from US governments over the centuries: driven out of their ancestral lands, the buffalo they relied on for food wiped out, not to mention bloody encounters with the US cavalry. Whereas Drabble is engaged by the history of an indigenous people, Harris is excited at the prospect of a possible scoop if he can persuade Black Cloud to reveal who killed Colonel Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Harris and Drabble follow the cast of the Wild West Show as they travel across the Atlantic, with Harris drinking what seems at times enough to float the ocean liner they are aboard. At the Captain’s table Harris and Drabble encounter some of their fellow passengers, including Fanny Howell and Colonel Grant from the Wild West Show, as well as Major Sakamoto, a Japanese diplomat. As Harris and Drabble pursue their enquiries both find themselves in danger, giving rise to some hair-raising scenes and necessitating some daring escapes. Although the story is told from both Harris’ and Drabble’s point of view I felt I got to know the latter slightly better. Having said that, Drabble’s romantic encounter took me by surprise; I’d imagined him to be a dusty old professor but he proves to be nothing of the kind.

Set in 1937, there are references to the increasingly unstable situation in Europe and the territorial ambitions of Japan. But how might these be connected with rumours of a new determination by Native American tribes to restore their rights? Finding the answers takes Harris and Drabble to South Dakota for some exciting final scenes… and more narrow escapes.

Ghosts of the West is an entertaining historical mystery that moves along at pace. I thought the Native American angle of the plot was inventive and I enjoyed the banter between Harris and Drabble.

In three words: Amiable, ingenious, action-packed

Try something similar: Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons by David Stafford

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Alec Marsh Author PIcAbout the Author

Alec was born in Essex in 1975 and studied history at Newcastle University before embarking on a career in journalism. Over the last 20 years he has written for most of the national newspapers as well as for the New Statesman, the Spectator and Country Life. He is currently editor-at-large of Spear’s magazine, and lives in Essex with his wife and family.

Alec is the author of Rule Britannia, a light-hearted historical thriller set against the backdrop of the Abdication Crisis in 1936 – described by Rebus-creator Ian Rankin as ‘a rollicking good read’ and by Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency author Alexander McCall Smith as ‘an immensely readable treat’. Rule Britannia is the first in a series featuring protagonists Drabble and Harris and was published in October 2019 by Headline Accent. The second novel in the Drabble and Harris series, Enemy of the Raj, set in British India in 1937 was released in September 2020. He is working on the fourth novel in the Drabble and Harris series, which will be set in Turkey.

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