Zanzibar reading

Zanzibar reading

Relaxing on the beach in Zanzibar after an amazing safari in Kenya gave me time to read two great historical novels – The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse and The Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper.

I’ve enjoyed reading Kate Mosse’s books in the past (see my blogs on Kate Mosse and The Taxidermist’s Daughter) and so bought myself her new novel as an airport paperback on my way out of Heathrow. I was delighted to see it’s the first in the series, so there will be more to enjoy. I waited until we’d arrived in Zanzibar to read this whilst lazing by the pool on the beach. It didn’t disappoint. It is set in the sixteenth century Languedoc part of France, in the midst of the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants and there’s a helpful explainer of those wars at the start of the book.

The central character is nineteen year old Minou, who is taking care of her father’s bookshop in Carcassone after he has returned from some travels a shadow of his former self (Minou does not know that he has been captured and tortured). The bookshop stocks books of any religion and Minou tries to keep it going, despite the increasing polarisation between religious communities. Her life turns on an encounter with Huguenot Piet, who is visiting Carcassone, and she ends up leaving to stay with her Aunt in Toulouse where she witnesses the religious violence first hand. All is well that ends well, and after working with Piet and her father to solve a family mystery and avoiding being burned alive, she settles in Puivert to begin a new life. But Piet’s adversary is waiting in the wings to cause more trouble in book two.

I heard about The Hellfire Club when Jake Tapper was a guest on one of my favourite Podcasts Pod Save America. It sounded right up-my-street and it was. It is set in the heart of McCarthyism in 1950s America, as former academic and freshman Congressman Charlie Marder and his pregnant wife and fellow academic Margaret try to settle into their new life in Washington, rubbing shoulders with, amongst others, their new neighbours a young JFK and Jackie. Charlie’s principles are quickly washed away in a slew of alcohol and Washington cocktail parties, and he finds himself waking up after a car accident at the side of the road with a dead women who’s been thrown out of his car.

As Charlie’s life unravels he slowly realises he is caught up in forces beyond his control, and finally has the good sense to confide in Margaret and face the consequences. It’s not long before both of their lives are in danger as they find themselves in the cross-fire of Communists and McCarthy supporters. This is a really fun read if you like American politics, as Charlie is witness to a fascinating political era.