Saturday, 29 December 2018

@amreading Juan Gabriel Vasquez, THE SHAPE OF THE RUINS

This is a novel about conspiracy theories involving the assassination of two Colombian politicians. The country’s turbulent history is interwoven with the present life of the author – real or fiction. It’s hard to tell them apart, but that is the message of the novel.

Even more interesting to me is the author’s take on his own mission as a writer:

I found myself wondering aloud how I’ve come to know these things I might be better off not knowing: how I had come to spend so much time thinking about these dead people, living with them, talking to them, listening to their regrets and regretting, in turn, not being able to do anything to alleviate their suffering. Learning the stories circulating about their assassination set in motion a frightful mechanism that would only end with this book: this book written in atonement for crimes that, although I did not commit them, I have ended up inheriting.

Yes, I think we can’t disengage from the history of our country. But for some exploring history is a hobby, the same as playing chess or bridge for other people, or doing crossword puzzles, or knitting, or stamp-collecting. But they are a dying breed, defeated by the implacable amnesia that has always stifled this poor country.

 Some professional historians are able to infuse their accounts with life, filling each of the phrases with precision that made the author seem more like a medium in a spiritualism session.

I accept that in my relationship with such things there is an aspect of fascination or fetishism, and also something (impossible to deny) of an ancient superstition: I know that some part of me sees them and has always seen them as relics, and that’s why the cult in which believers profess to a splinter of wood from the cross of their Lord…has never seemed incomprehensible or, much less, exotic to me.

I don’t know when I started to realize that my country’s past was incomprehensible and obscure to me, a real shadowy terrain…and that is why he decided to write about it. You don’t write about what you know and understand, and much less do you write because you know and understand, but because you understand that all your knowledge and comprehension is false, a mirage and an illusion, so your books are not, could not be, more than an elaborate display of disorientation: extensive and multifarious declarations of perplexity.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018



Thursday, 4 October 2018


The second edition of The Inquisitor's Niece has just come out. This review appeared in the Midwest Book Review:
The novel opens in Seville, Spain, in 1514, just after the deaths of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The Inquisitor General, a cardinal and bitter enemy of the Jews, has issued a decree that all Jews must convert to Christianity or face exile. In this world, "A Jew has no friends among Christians." It's not the kind of atmosphere which would encourage a Jew and a Christian to fall in love.

But Alonso and Luisa, the Inquisitor’s niece, prove the adage “Love conquers all”.

Inquisition-era Spain comes to life through the thoughts and perceptions of this couple and those who surround them… 
Readers of historical fiction will find this story absorbing and packed with historical facts and insights that well represent the atmosphere, politics, and religious and social concerns of 16th century Spain. Daily life under the darkness of the Spanish Inquisition is well detailed and teaches much about the era while supporting a compelling tale that involves readers in matters of the heart…

It deftly moves beyond the story of two frustrated would-be lovers separated by forces beyond their control, and into a world that offers hope in the face of darkness.

Historical fiction readers are in for a real treat with The Inquisitor's Niece.

Sunday, 30 September 2018


My new novel, based on the correspondence between Nobel and his Viennese mistress (A NOBEL AFFAIR, published 2017) has just appeared from Endeavour.

Three women are after Nobel: Ida wants revenge for the death of her lover, who has been killed in an accident at Nobel’s dynamite factory. Sophiewants compensation for the abuse she suffered as Nobel’s mistress. Bertie wants Nobel to atone for his lethal invention and spend the profit on a Peace Prize.

Set in fin-de-si├Ęcle Vienna, THREE WOMEN AND ALFRED NOBEL exploresthe social constraints placed on women, the traumatic effects of war on soldiers, and the ethnic tensions that lead to the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018


When an incident happens in a library, the librarian must fill out a report. Baillie’s novel is a collection of reports that strays into memoir territory.
Incident Report 5, for example, is about morning anxiety. Every morning in the warmth of my bed, as I surface from sleep, fear –small as a cherry stone, cracks open behind my breastbone.
Incident Report 45 is about meeting a young man in the park, reading a children’s novel. If somebody had asked me, I would have said that a young man with a gentle expression and missing a finger, reading a children’s novel, resting before his next shift driving a taxi, was as good a person to fall in love with as anyone, but that I was not interested in more suffering. Yet she falls in love and suffers.
Suitcase Man, one of the regulars at the library, makes his appearance in several Incident Reports: He never borrows books, CDs or DVDs, never surfs the net or nervously taps messages, hunching over the keyboard, as the others do…He comes with one purpose only: to make multiple copies of the documents riding in his suitcase.
Sometimes he leaves behind notes. They all concern one subject: Verdi’s Rigoletto and the death of the hunchback’s daughter. She’s too young to know danger, one of his notes says. Ah, poor hunchback, with no right to happiness. But this time I won’t let any harm come to her. If one of those men should so much as touch a hair on her head, my gorgeous daughter with the freckled hands…I dropped the paper. I closed myself in the bathroom and stared at my hands. They were as they had always been – slim, pale and covered in freckles.