God’s Traitors by Jessie Childs

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: (Looks toward England. Raises middle finger.)

Quick synopsis: Another story about how England is the devil. This time, it focuses on the Catholic Vaux family in Elizabethan England.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: There were places built into homes to hide clergy during the time of Catholic persecution. They were called a “priest hole.” Yeah, I know.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: To this day, you still cannot be Catholic and King of England. We don’t want it anyway.

My Take: The set-up for this book is rife with opportunity for a thriller. Families hiding their faith and secreting away priests while being hunted.

This book does tackle that but in a more scholastic way. It focuses on the Vaux family during the time where it was illegal to be Catholic in England. Yes, that was a long time. Yes, I am still salty about it. Being of Irish heritage as well does not help. Some may say, “But Brendan, the Catholic Church killed a lot of people back then,” and I would say, “Well, I’m not reviewing a book about that right now so shut up, jerk.”

I digress. Jessie Childs book is well researched and eminently readable. However, it is a failure of mine that I expected something more up-tempo. There are many close calls which are documented but they do not make up the bulk of the narrative. This is a great book if your expectations are set properly.

The title is badass, though.

Verdict: This is a well-done book, but it is written for history nerds and not thriller fans.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Antonia Fraser, The King and the Catholics
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Catholicism_in_the_United_Kingdom

Blood Royal by Eric Jager

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I wonder how many less murders we would have if people kept it in their pants?

Quick synopsis: The murder of the Duke of Orleans, Louis I, in 1407.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: This murder wasn’t very straightforward because a lot of people wanted to kill Louis. Mostly because he had a penchant for sleeping with people’s wives.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Oh, one of those wives he might have been sleeping with? His brother’s wife, Queen Isabeau.

My Take: Historical true crime is always an interesting subject. However, Blood Royal is the first book that highlighted something which is common sense, but you don’t think about.

Medieval cities used to get really dark at night. There is no light, and you can’t have a fire going because you would easily burn down all of the buildings which were made primarily of wood. Finally, there is no police force as we know it today. If you went out after dark, you probably wouldn’t even see your murderer coming. On top of that, no one would be investigating in any meaningful way.

With that backdrop, here comes the story of the king’s brother being murdered after leaving from seeing the queen. At night. Louis had a lot of lovers and it made for a lot of potential killers.

The chief of police, Guillaume de Tignonville, is tasked with finding the murderer. Jager shows just how far from today’s methods 1407 was and yet, Tignonville ends up being pretty effective considering the circumstances. The ending is pretty straightforward but not without drama.

Verdict: A really fun book. If you like historical true crime, then this is right up your alley.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Eric Jager, The Last Duel
  • Hallie Rubenhold, The Five
  • Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight
  • Joel Harrington, The Faithful Executioner
  • Holly Tucker, City of Light, City of Poison

Mystery on the Isle of Shoals by J. Dennis Robinson

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: It’s actually not a mystery who did it, but people like conspiracies.

Quick synopsis: The murder of Karen and Anethe Christensen on the isolated Smuttynose Island in 1873.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Smuttynose Island got its name from sailors who felt the seaweed on the island made it look like a “smutty nose.” It has no sexual connotation, you perverts.

Oh, Blackbeard had his honeymoon there.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Celia Thaxter, a famous poet of the 1800s, lived on the Island of Shoals off and on throughout her life and wrote “A Memorable Murder” about the murders.

My Take: It’s better when you take your time.

Robinson’s book is very evenly paced but he also takes his time to make the reader understand the setting of the Isle of Shoals. The prologue takes up much more room than usual, but I personally believe it makes the murder and subsequent events more vivid. The Isle of Shoals has a rich history which needs to be explained and Robinson takes the time to do that.

The murder is very straightforward for the most part but still very compelling to read. The twist is actually the lack of a twist. People to this day think something else happened. Read and make the decision for yourself.

Verdict: I loved it. It does not move as fast as most true crime novels but if you care about understanding a setting, then this is the book for you.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Simon Baatz, The Girl in the Velvet Swing
  • Skip Hollandsworth, The Midnight Assassin
  • Gregg Olsen, Starvation Heights
  • Douglas Starr, The Killer of Little Shepherds
  • Hallie Rubenhold, The Five
  • J. Robinson, Mystery on the Isle of Shoals
  • Miriam Davis, The Axeman of New Orleans

Maniac by Harold Schechter

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Always pay attention to people buying a lot of explosives.

Quick synopsis: The Bath School disaster in 1927. Andrew Kehoe bombed the local Michigan grade school out of revenge for perceived slights and holy hell he didn’t stop there.

Fun Fact for Non-History People Will Like: This is still the worst school massacre in U.S. history even though most of us never heard of it before.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Kehoe blamed the school for his inability to pay off his debts. It was estimated at his death that he could have sold his property and paid everything off.

My Take: I don’t necessarily “enjoy” true crime, per se. I appreciate a well written story and when it helps the reader understand a little more about human nature than just recounting a story.

Schechter does two things. He slowly shows the deterioration of Andrew Kehoe including documenting the perceived slights which led him to do what he did. Even with this detailed walk-through, the ending is shocking. Kehoe didn’t just set a bomb at a school. He enacted a multi-step plan of revenge that spared no one except through good luck.

The other theme which Schechter tackles intermittently, but very effectively, is why most people have no knowledge of the Bath School disaster even with how amazingly sad it was. I won’t spoil it.

You are not going to feel good at the end of this book, but there is no way to tell this story.

Verdict: A brutal read but a vivid account of a psycho and how he came to do what he did. A must read for true crime readers.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Miriam C. Davis, The Axeman of New Orleans
  • Skip Hollandsworth, The Midnight Assassin
  • Gregg Olsen, Starvation Heights
  • Sinclair McKay, The Lady in the Cellar
  • Rich Cohen, The Last Pirate of New York