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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History
A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ April 27, 2011
Eboracum, the ancient Brigantian settlement which was garrisoned by a Roman legion in AD 71 and became capital of the province of Northern Britain, better known today as York, was the perfect meeting place for a group of history-loving mystery writers from three continents.
Dolores Gordon-Smith who lives in Manchester and sets her Jack Haldean mysteries in the 1920's, Jane Finnis who lives nearby and authors the Aurelia Marcella series set in Roman Britain, Rebecca Jenkins who lives in Durham and writes the FR Jarrett Mysteries set in Regency England, pre-published Sandra Powley from New Zealand, and myself from the States with Felicity and Antony from my Monastery Murders digging through the crumbling remains of huge chunks of medieval history couldn't have had a better meeting spot than this historic city with the daffodils blooming everywhere to greet us.
We met at the train station, so what morenatural than to renew acquaintance at the nearby hotel with a cup of coffee. Left to right, we're: Donna, Rebecca, Dolores, Jane.
Then a walk along the historic city walls which are among the finest surviving examples of medieval city fortifications in Europe. Much restored, they date mainly from the reign of Edward III in the 14th century. Lovely York Minster in the background was our goal.
At the Minster, built on the site of the Emperor Constantine’s military headquarters, we went first to the Crypt and Undercroft, the oldest part of the Minster where a museum on the Minster's history begins in Roman times with a bust of Constantine and artifacts and carvings found on the site which predate the Minster and explain how the Minster was built, including fragmentary remains of Roman plasterwork and the foundations of the medieval nave walls.
Upstairs in the nave I was especially taken with the special installation of artist Ghislaine Howard’s monumental monochrome paintings of The Stations of the Cross which were being shown as devotional work at York Minster during Lent and Easter. I especially liked the fact that the paintings were installed at floor level since so much of the service of Stations of the Cross is done with the participants kneeling.
From the Minster we went to the Shambles, the oldest street in York. The word Shambles derives from the Medieval word Shamel or Flesshammel, which means to do with flesh, as it was the street of the butchers, but is now lined with enticing shops.
Since it was by then well past lunch, however, we headed straight to Ye Olde Starre Inne, a contender for the title of York's oldest pub and probably its most famous because of the sign which spans the medieval street of Stonegate. The pub is set back from the street, with its entrance down a small snicket. The sign was put up after a landlord in the 18th century built a house in front of the pub. As a business it could no longer be seen from the street and would miss passing trade. Now that sign stands as one of the icons of York.
Over plates of fish and chips and ploughman's lunches we exchanged and autographed books. Since I was already a fan of Aurelia Marcellus, I was delighted when Jane Finnis gave me her latest A Bitter Chill. As the title indicates, the story is set in the depths of winter. Innkeeper Aurelia's hopes for a peaceful and joyous Saturnalia are shattered by rumors of political plots, brigands running a protection racket, and demanding noble guests involved in murderous quarrels. I was held spellbound by the complex plot and superb period detail as well as the varied cast of characters, and delighted to be able to attend vicariously a Saturnalia feast and a Roman wedding.
I had previously admired the cover of Rebecca Jenkins' Death of a Radical, so was thrilled when she produced a copy for me from her copious bag. I haven't finished it yet, but I can already tell you it is intricately plotted and poetically written with the excellent period detail I always want in an historical novel. Readers of Georgette Heyer will find this entirely new approach to the Regency period enthralling.
Not in the picture because I had finished reading it before leaving home, was Dolores Gordon-Smith's A Hundred Thousand Dragons, to my mind, Jack Haldean's best adventure yet. The explosion of a burning Rolls Royce with a body in it brings on an investigation that forces Jack to relive the youthful failure that has haunted him for years. Following the clues of a fiendishly clever cypher, Jack returns to the scene of his former torment. His desperate attempt to right old wrongs and prevent new ones leads Jack and his friends to an explosive ending in the Arabian desert that will have Indiana Jones fans— and Jack Haldean fans— cheering.
Good reading, good fellowship, a delightful day out. Who could ask for more?
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