Publisher:Sand Hill Review Press
Series: A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery (Book One)
Genre: Historical Fiction/Historical Mystery
The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads amateur sleuths Violet Paget and John Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings—including the legendary Arthur—as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon creates a sparkling, magical mystery that bridges the gap between two worlds that could hardly be more different—the industrialized, Darwinian, materialistic Victorian Age and the agricultural, faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.
First in a new series of historical mysteries, The Spoils of Avalon introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends—beginning as young people on the verge of making their names famous for the next several decades throughout Europe and America: the brilliant and brittle Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented, genial portrait painter John Singer Sargent.
Friends from the age of ten, Paget and Sargent frequently met in the popular European watering places and capitals, frequenting the same salons and drawing rooms in London, Rome, Paris, Florence, Venice, Vienna and Madrid. Both were possessed of keen minds and bohemian tendencies, unorthodox educations and outsized egos (especially Paget). Their instant, natural bonding led them to address each other as “Twin”, and they corresponded frequently when they were apart.
Henry James once described Violet Paget as having “the most formidable mind” of their times, and he was an active fan and patron of John Sargent, introducing him to London society and his own inner circles of literary and artistic genius.
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Mary F. Burns is the author of PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST (Sand Hill Review Press, February 2013), a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a former member of the HNS Conference board of directors. A novella-length book, ISAAC AND ISHMAEL, is also being published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2014. Ms. Burns’ debut historical novel J-THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE BIBLE was published in July 2010 by O-Books (John Hunt Publishers, UK). She has also written two cozy-village mysteries in a series titled The West Portal Mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery and The Tarot Card Murders).
Ms. Burns was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where she earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in English, along with a high school teaching certificate. She relocated to San Francisco in 1976 where she now lives with her husband Stuart in the West Portal neighborhood. Ms. Burns has a law degree from Golden Gate University, has been president of her neighborhood association and is active in citywide issues. During most of her working career she was employed as a director of employee communications, public relations and issues management at various San Francisco Bay Area corporations, was an editor and manager of the Books on Tape department for Ignatius Press, and has managed her own communications/PR consulting business, producing written communications, websites and video productions for numerous corporate and non-profit clients.
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I love a good mystery, and I went through a phase when I was totally in love with all permutations of Arthurian legend, so when an opportunity to read and review this book landed in my inbox, I was delighted to do so.
John and Violet are a detective duo to rival Holmes and Watson, and the presence of a woman does much to open the genre. From the first page, I bought their lifelong friendship, and was laughing when their banter seemed funny, empathizing when they had different ideas. From the start, I felt like I knew these people, and would enjoy conversing at the dinner table, long after the meal’s grown cold, with them.
Similarly, the plot, taking place in two timezones (Victorian England and Glastonbury 200 years or so before that) was woven together just as the Lady of Shalott might have done, and indeed this story was a ‘magic web of colors gay,’ though, of course, as there’s a murder, some of them were also more muted. I especially enjoyed the way author Mary Burns used excerpts from The Idylls of the King as chapter headers.
As a standalone novel, The Spoils of Avalon would be a great read, and I heartily recommend it, but wait! There’s more. Or at least, I hope there will be more, because this book is being marketed as Book One in a series of adventures for John and Violet.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Goes well with Hard cider and a chicken pot pie, especially if it’s raining while you read.
This review is part of a blog tour organized by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. For the complete list of stops, see below. For more information, click HERE.
Monday, November 3
Review at Buried Under Books
Tuesday, November 4
Review at Book Dilettante
Wednesday, November 5
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Friday, November 7
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Wednesday, November 12
Guest Post at Passages to the Past
Thursday, November 13
Review at Curling Up By The Fire
Friday, November 14
Interview at The Maiden’s Court
Tuesday, November 18
Review at Impressions in Ink
Wednesday, November 19
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Thursday, November 20
Review & Giveaway at Beth’s Book Reviews
Friday, November 21
Review at Bibliotica