Over the next two or three weeks, I intend to review the
seven books read in recent months. Some of these were on my list for my 2019 challenges,
and all have counted towards my 2019 Goodreads Challenge.
First is a novel I won in a giveaway on the author’s website
that I follow. As it is a thick book, I had some difficulty carrying it around in
my old wheelchair. But over time, I found a solution and read the novel.
when published in the UK: Harold the King
In this beautifully
crafted tale, Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England, is a
respected, quick-witted man both vulnerable and strong, honorable and
loving-and yet, in the end, only human. After the political turmoil and battles
leading up to 1066, we all know William the Conquerer takes England. But Helen
Hollick will have readers at the edge of their seats, hoping that just this
once, for Harold, the story will have a different ending.
Review 5 stars
This beautifully written novel was well worth spending time
reading. In summary, I loved all the details and characters. Although I already
opposed the Normans, Helen Hollick turned me into a fan of Harold Godwinesson.
But I’ve never liked William the Conqueror – even when I discovered the Normans
had Norse ancestors. The novel felt well-researched.
On a superficial level and the one I learnt at school
decades ago, the story is straightforward. But the reality and the twists,
intrigues and rivalry as it unfolds is complex. Helen Hollick captures all the
nuances and fills in history’s gaps convincingly.
The settings in England and Normandy evoked a sense of what
the 11th century was possibly like. Some of the places I glimpsed
from my own travels. For instance, London and its environs were very different and
yet the descriptions triggered images and memories in my imagination. I lived
for a few years near Waltham Abbey, so could picture it as it was.
One negative could be the portrayal of the original Britons –
the Welsh. Were the Welsh worse than other peoples around that period? Ruling
England is a tough job, but does it mean all one’s enemies are violent savages?
Or is that my Welsh bias?
Anyways, the Godwinesson family take centre stage, led by
Harold’s influential father, Earl Godwin. Early on there are indications that sibling
rivalry is inevitable, and as the story unfolds it becomes more intense leading
to the fatal actions of one brother, Tostig. How the role of other family
members weaves into this is well-portrayed and justified.
Then there is royal intrigue. Again, inevitable given the characters, a reluctant King, his powerful mother – Emma, Queen and wife of the late Cnut the Great – and then Harold’s politically astute father. Emma, who is the protagonist of Hollick’s next book in the series, The Forever Queen – chronologically a prequel – is reluctant to let her son, Edward rule as if he’s weak. But this ‘confessor’ is distracted by spiritual matters – until he tastes power.
I’m not going to accuse
the author of treating her characters as black and white as others have. They
take sides and few of them waver. Even the despicable William has his moments
of introspection. So, the characters felt realistic, reacting and creating
events. Some lived dangerously, wanting what others had and failing – or
in William’s case succeeding.
Emma must teach Harold’s ambitious sister Edith about her
duties as Queen when she marries Edward, becoming the next Queen of England. And
what does power do when petty sibling rivalry plays its role? Hollick weaves
that rivalry into the historical facts, and the tale unfolds as it did in 1066.
Fortunately, Harold’s hand-fast wife, Edith Swanneck rises above this rivalry,
and their love endures even when he has to marry another in the eyes of the
church – another relationship well-portrayed.
When Edward dies and Harold is chosen as the King of England,
other claimants emerge inevitably. One is Duke William of Normandy.
Historically he claimed both Edward and Harold had promised him the crown, but
the records are questionable enough for the writer to expand on the facts and
give Harold justification for accepting the crown himself.
Result – invasions north and south. The pace builds as the
ending unfolds that most English know from school. So, we know what happens in
this timeline. Tostig creates tension and trouble with his Norwegian allies. And
as made clear in the scenes of him securing his dukedom, William never gives
up. History can’t be changed.
Damn that Norman bastard.
The tension of those final days gripped me as I marched up and down England. Hollick had me praying for an English victory. ‘What if’ kept playing through her words. But this wasn’t the clever alternative history collection,1066 Turned Upside Down which Hollick contributed to. This was the actual year 1066 but crafted brilliantly and enjoyably.
I have been following and voting in WRITE CLUB 2019 and voting on the excellent final 30 entries in the Preliminary rounds. I plan to continue voting in subsequent rounds hoping my favourites win.
I submitted an entry – under a pen-name – but did not reach the standard of other entries. Re-reading my submission, I know why.
But what do you think? Should I have used this for the April WEP/IWSG Challenge, Jewel Box? All critiques and comments welcome.
by Zilarrezko Ezpata
Supercilious servants seldom deserve attention when they thrust a drab
packet into my hands. Howsoever, this maid is incessantly thus. Why her
mistress accepts her insolence vexes me. I accept the delivery but offer no acknowledgement
and send the servant on her way, back to my sister-in-law’s house on Harrison
Boulevard. My man can convey my response.
Locking out the oppressive heat behind the front door, I walk across the tiled
hallway. The package is lighter than expected. Dreary plays my brother intends
for his conjectured theater, or native artifacts I will capitalize? My throat
constricts but my mind exalts.
I discard the brown paper as I carry the tawdry ivory-inlaid box contained within
to the maple desk in my tranquil sanctuary.
Placed inside the ruby-red interior are ten jewelry cases that flush my body
in warmth. A sealed message lies on top. The wax has an imprint, but somehow blurred.
Intentional? Never. Made in haste.
My heart beat rises. Profit beckons. My stomach flutters.
Fingers caress the soft vellum envelope. I falter
at the unusual leopard-spotted variety but dismiss an irrational image. The
perfume pervading the room banishes the remembrance. I break the seal.
Only my love,
Arantxa dabs Angel’s Trumpet on her
A precious and profitable attachment.
My spirit soars on pounding beats, body burning.
I return the gifts you used to seduce
me, without success. Unlike base men such as you, I am neither a heart-cheater nor
Herewith, the moonstone pendant. You
promised a diamond as in the book, but that was beyond you. Why didn’t I take
The crude cameo locket that will never
be me. Not even an old-fashioned eye portrait. My eyes are blue not black.
The Art nouveau enameled barrette affronted
One pearl earring shed like a tear,
the other dust. You are the dream-crusher.
Did you intend the amethyst bracelet
to enslave me?
The faux emerald and sapphire choker?
Tighter than a scoundrel’s purse. My breeding detects peridot and topaz so as paltry
The rough-cut ruby brooch that drew
more than my blood. Why the deceit with a mere red garnet?
Perchance, the diamond necklace you
locked around my neck meant aught. But never was I gulled by your growing
Can a lie-weaver ever repent? No, thus
I spurned this silver band stolen from some naïve conquest.
Only overreached by the gold ring that
never engaged my soul or eyes.
I am smothered by her two-faced words.
My head whirls, and my mouth burns. Confused, I stagger to my armchair. I read
her last lines.
This blood-lined box that holds your
cheap baubles, unfit to grace this lady.
Finally, the Palouse colt. Or what
remains of him—the vellum produced from his skin.
Where is Detective
Sparkle Anwyl of the North Wales Police heading?
Or rather where do I
start her story? What comes first? The goth teenager or the quirky detective?
For the Blogging from A to Z April (2019) Challenge, I wrote a 19,000 word Sparkle story in twenty-six
parts – Azure Spark.
It is a standalone case that some readers have said I should publish as a
novella. However, that throws up some complications.
First complication: although Sparkle & Co., resolved the Azure Spark case, an arson investigation was left ongoing – my ‘O for Obstruction’ post, for the bi-monthly WEP/IWSG Challenge. April’s theme was ‘Jewel Box’ which became the name of the torched gift shop. Initially, I planned to continue the investigation with the June theme, ‘Caged Bird’ and then in the three subsequent WEG/IWSG posts, culminating with ‘Footprints’ in December. But that means holding back ‘Azure Spark’. Doesn’t it?
Or I can write that arson case now as a ‘bonus’
Second complication: backstory. I can add a few pieces of backstory in ‘Azure Spark’ when I re-draft the story. What do readers need to know? Why did Sparkle become a cop? How did she meet her lover, Kama? However, all these incidents exist as short stories. Sparkle’s backstory unfolded as various shorts I developed as a collection with a framing investigation for NaNoWriMo 2018, titled “Fevered Few” – including a case I wrote for the WEP/IWSG Challenge last year.
What do readers
Third complication:‘Azure Spark’ references
a key case in ‘Fevered
Few’ – but in a way I hope gives all that the reader requires. Or
does the case need more detail? How much detail is too much? Or should ‘Azure Spark’ be part of the
Okay, my gut feeling
is that ‘Azure Spark’ the
novella is my starting point. Test the water/market with that, then continue
with the other Sparkle Anwyl stories.
Do you, dear reader, agree?
I intended ‘Fevered Few’ to be the opening of Snowdon Shadows, a series of mystery novels set around Snowdonia in North Wales. However, in the beginning of that WIP, Sparkle doesn’t know she’s a policewoman – or Heddlu as the Welsh police are called. Amnesia is the antagonist blocking her memories of her first cases and more. So, ‘Fevered Few’ was the start of the series – before April 2019’s A to Z Challenge.
I also have three novels to complete in order: “Fates Maelstrom”, “Seeking A Knife”, and “Ruined Retreat”. I’ve drafted FM five times, SAK is still incomplete, and RR was my 2018 NaNoWriMo novel (draft one).
So how do I make ‘Azure
Spark’ fit into the release schedule?
Have I really survived six Blogging from A to Z Challenges? According to my website, yes. Go HERE if you want to read more of my A to Z posts. As for 2019 all the posts were up on time, plus a compilation/edit in three acts – Act One here. However, that is not the end of the Challenge – next comes this Reflections post.
The Reflectionpost is a tradition at the A to Z Challenge. It gives all us participants
a chance to look back at what worked, what didn’t, what we’ve done, what was
learned, and where we hope to go from here. At the end of this post, I’ve added
a list of direct links to other people’s Reflections.
But wait. My theme reveal
was my downfall. What hurtyn chooses
to write a 26-part episodic short story that will read like a novella? Well me.
And that was my first mistake. Second was when my keyboard died on me
mid-March. Okay, I got all my posts scheduled in time – with a few days to
spare at the end of April. But I’m now struggling in a quagmire of emails for
fascinating A to Z posts.
Next year, I’m starting in February – or choosing a simpler
theme than I’ve ever done – maybe.
Anyway, this year, in honour of the Challenge’s
Tenth Anniversary, the brilliant A to Z Team produced a list of ten questions we could use for our
posts. Here are my answers:
1. What did you love about the challenge
First, the Challenge kept me writing – the commitment I
made, plus the comments. So, there’s more tales to spiel.
If it ain’t broke don’t
fix it. And it isn’t. I’ve read one intriguing suggestion that we reduced
the pressure and make it March-April – might help or increase/spread the
stress. Even us that prepare badly.
3. What was the best
moment for you during this year’s challenge?
Making my ‘O’ post for A to Z and the April WEP/IWSG post around
the theme of ‘Jewel
Box’ work, even though my overall theme had nothing to do with jewels.
But it was Crime and the comments approved of the episode.
4. What is the best
comment your blog got during the challenge, and who left the comment?
It’s hard to choose one, from those that persisted with my
short story/novella – like Ronel Janse van Vuuren who looks forward
to the Arson
posts [WEP/IWSG Challenge] and Liz Brownlee, to those from sites I
read consistently who were regular commentators – including the Ninja Captain,
leader of IWSG. Okay, two made me blush and amp up my fiction writing:
“Wow, I don’t know if it just comes naturally or you did it
on purpose, but I loved the numerous uses of D words, then C words, then B
words creating a kind of reverse A to Z musical crescendo as the clues to the
plot pile up !” Susan Rouchard
“Very interesting, Roland. I picked up on snippets of alliteration
sprinkled here and there. (I love alliterative writing).” Michelle
5. Will you do the
Can I stay away? Am I addicted? Of course.
6. Was it well
organized and were the hosts helpful? (Did you fill out the after survey?)
Well organised as always. Hosts so good some dropped by to
check my glass was topped up and I was enjoying the canapes. I didn’t need to
hassle them once – even for some ink for my pen. And yes, I filled out the
7. How did you and
your blog grow, change, or improve as a result of this challenge? Did you find
new blogs out there to enjoy?
I chose the wrong theme to attract many new followers, but I
signed up for a few new sites. My writing has probably improved, but my site has
only been tweaked – I may make changes/updates over the year ahead. But those
new sites are expanding my horizons.
8. Were you on
the Master List? (If you did the challenge last year, was it
better this time without the daily lists?)
I was on the Master List but didn’t use it – so, I can’t
compare it to last year. In fact, I’ve got a backlog of A-Z blog emails/sites
to visit – apologies to those awaiting a visit and a comment.
9. Any suggestions
for our future?
Not anything practical at the Team A to Z’s end. At mine –
get organised earlier.
10. Any notes to the
co-host team? A word of thanks to Jeremy for all his hard work on the graphics?
A picture with your A to Z shirt, if you ordered one?
Congratulations and thanks to you all: J Lenni, Jeremy – I
loved the badges and used them – Jayden,
Zalka and John, plus last but vitally they key, Arlee for making all this
possible ten years ago and counting.
What have I missed/evaded? What
questions do you have?
Except this is not the A to Z month even if I’m still
recovering – INSECURE as I have a vast backlog of emails/blog posts (260+),
reviews to write, WRiTE CLUB bouts to read, and fog like
the Sargasso Sea.
Anyway, on to this month’s question.
May 1 question –
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Reaction 1 –
pass. My brain won’t engage.
Response 2 – can I cheat? Latest? During Blogging from A to Z, one of my followers admired my alliteration – I had fun with repetitive use of the letters. And a review led me to buying a copy of Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence – so more ‘unforgettable phrases’ to follow.
Rejoinder 3 –
when I read J.R.R Tolkien’s work as a teenager. His use of language was
phenomenal with deep roots. (Strange synchronicity as I’m sitting her listening
to soundtracks from the Lord of the Rings movies). Anyway, I tried to emulate the
Professor’s style, but my writing tutor, the late Roger
Woddis, accused me of ‘purple prose’ – justified. With his guidance, I
learnt to pare my effusive outpourings to create more power.
Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers
can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak.
Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a
safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Every month, we announce a question that members can answer
in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a
personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG
post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is
officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your
thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you
have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of
encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and
connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and
return comments. This group is all about connecting!
Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!
Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.
Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.
Tossed. Tumbling through turbulent water toward treacherous
rocks. Thunder in my head. Eyes seared by the explosion. Nothing, not even
Dead. That was their intent. Arms around me, tugging me.
Kama towing me.
“Don’t thrash.” A shout penetrates the storm that
tramples my mind. “I can see. I’ll get us ashore.”
“Where? A cove? I remember only rocks and cliffs.”
“There has to be one nearby. I glimpsed Bardsey Island
from the yacht.”
Doubt. Before we sailed to the dive site. Then cliffs. Cold
We’re a team – survivors.”
“If you can see, I’ll swim behind. I can hear – sense
you ahead. Swimming will keep me warm – alert. Please, thozhi.“
Kama fastens a tether strap around my wrist. “I’ll
attach the other end to my ankle. Safety 101.”
Tremble and smile. Warmth. Her ankle with a rose tattoo that
matches mine. Our eternal love.
We swim together. Trust.
A sound. Waves slapping on a clinker-hull. A voice – robust.
“There. Alive and swimming.” Guto Thomas, and he
shouts at us. “Genethod, we
heard the explosion – muffled but definite. What happened?”
“Rescue us and we’ll tell,” Kama says. “But
officially we are dead. In reality wounded. Sparkle was blinded – still
Arms pull us aboard. A second voice says, “Back to Port
“Padrig. We must vanish,” I say. Smiling in the total
“Your new secret is safe with me,” he says.
“Just as your earlier ones were – cousin. Us Pughs are a smart
Even if I feared his kinship, he’s true. Not every Pugh is
as prejudiced as my thaid, my
grandfather Hywel Pugh.
Plan. Move ahead of the Swedish smugglers – and the traitor
in NWP. Lure them out.
In front of the fire in Guto and Padrig’s cottage, we eat
bowls of Cawl – lamb and vegetable stew. Warmth, and with my eyesight
returning, we devise tactics.
“First, messages to our DI, Ffion Baines and to
Inspector Uthyr Varley to activate tracking of our concealed transponders.”
Kama writes the coded message. “Officially, we have to be missing or
“We can retrieve some of the wrecked boat,” says
Guto. “Evidence – your people will know what sort of bomb.”
“Forensics will come.” Kama anticipates what I
suspect. “Then some detectives – perhaps even the one that betrayed
“Kama and I can’t stay here. We have to get to
“Ivor Pugh’s farm,” Padrig says. “I’ve been
there a few years ago. I’ll take you. Covert?”
We all laugh.
“My family are used to my weird ways. So, if we turn up
at the Pugh farm hidden in some trailer – no surprise.”
N for Nightmare and Nemesis. K for Killed and Kinship. P for
Pugh and Protection. U for Unseen and Uncle. I for Ivor and Intent. C for
Covert and Code.
UNPICK. Unscramble the tangled threads hiding our traitor.
When we make sense of Pia’s parting words.
UNDERMINE – Sunday 26th July – Midday
Unarmed, unaware and useless. My decisions. Why come here?
Unsound understanding of my tattoos.
Kama’s tongue traces the heart where only she goes. Licks
her way inside. Inviting me inside her.
I’ve betrayed her. Making love is impossible now. Even if my
brain wasn’t scrambled.
“You’re distracted, cariad. Why? Sunday guilt? Your
grandparents’ disapproval? They don’t know. Adjoining rooms don’t mean we’re
lovers – even if we are.”
Peaceful sounds. Sheep. A tractor.
But nothing is normal now.
“My grandparents suspect – but don’t want to know. But
I’m doubting myself. Stupidly blaming my tattoos–”
” -which have always led to the right conclusion.”
Shake my head. Crush her pillows.
“Only when I unscramble their weirdness.”
Each tattoo is a watershed moment in my life – becoming a
goth, my first girlfriend, that first heartbreak. Culminating in our secret
hearts. But upheavals – always.
Passion postponed, I dress in black – jeans, T-shirt and Doc
Martens. Focus on positives. Ignore the pounding in my head.
Undetected. We can still thwart the Swedes and their NWP
Outside, an ultramarine Land Rover Discovery draws up. We go
downstairs and greet Uthyr Varley.
“Glad you got the coded message, sir.”
“Uthyr, please. Especially as this is unofficial – and
you two are presumed dead. ‘Unacceptable fatalities’, the Chief Constable
stated to the media.”
“Best if Sparkle and I remain dead until we’ve
outwitted the suspects. Undercover and unseen beyond here. How much has the
Marine unit uncovered so far?”
Without the involvement of the North West Police Underwater
Search and Marine Unit, I know that NWP is in an unwinnable situation.
We sit on the wooden bench outside, overlooking a view I
will always love. Mountains speckled with sheep.
“Forensics identified the explosive used from the
wreckage recovered by Messrs. Thomas and Pugh as untagged Semtex – used
primarily in blasting.”
“Traceable?” I suspect not, even if the Chief
Constable is alerted.
“No resources, I’m afraid.
We’re tracking the cargo you raised and tagged. The four containers are still
on the yacht Njörðr Hämnaren in a
marina between Llandudno and Conwy. No attempt has been made to unload them.
What do you suspect is in them?”
Our dilemma. My unease. “Unsure at present.”
A white Peugeot 308 pulls into the farmyard and parks by the
new farmhouse built for my grandparents and mother.
Uthyr looks at his watch. “Ffion Baines on time as
Our DI points down to the
llyn – the lake that gives the farm its name: Tyn-y-llyn. The lake where I
learnt to swim – and we still do.
“Coffee, tea and gossip can wait. Today it’s urgent
that we unmask whoever betrayed my officers. Ugly prejudice taken to
unacceptable lengths. But why?”
“Money,” says Uthyr. “usually the ulterior
M for Money. P for Prejudice. Unlikely. We are missing the
“Anyone behaving unexpectedly?” asks Kama.
“The team must be devastated – or should be.”
“When officers die, everyone pulls together. United –
as we are in Porthmadog. Wiley Yates and Vivian Utkin volunteered to
investigate your murders. I gave them access to some – but not all – of your
Who do we trust? Wiley knows our secret and understands.
Vivian is an unknown.
U for Understands and Unknown.
Her surname Utkin is familiar. From where? Another case? A
chill. My stomach seethes. Like my mind. Shredded, ever since the explosion.
“Pia Pilkvist said something in Swedish before
attempting to kill us. Kama?”
“It sounded like ‘larger victory’ as if they had
accomplices elsewhere acting underhand–”
“–like in other police forces,” says Uthyr.
Silence. Even the sheep are unvoiced.
“Or it was another attempt to undermine us – sow
doubt.” I shake my head. “But it makes no sense killing us
K for Kill. V for Victory and Volunteers. A for Accomplices
and Anxious. T for Traitor and Threats.
KVAT means nothing. My tattoos are failing us.
“We have grounds to arrest the Pilkvists,” says Ffion, tensing
her shoulders. “I’m desperate as they intended to kill you both. But I can’t
until we’ve uncovered their informer and other accomplices.”
Our safety requires uncertainty. Remaining hidden. Blood
from chewing my lips. Gritted teeth instead. Not inactive if we want to lure
them out. Think. Untangle my mess.
“Thwarted.” Uthyr clasps his hands behind his head. “I’ve
asked HMRC if they have grounds to seize the canisters, but they were inside UK
waters when raised. Nothing to point conclusively to their overseas origin. Too
circumstantial. But we’re primed to respond.”
“And if they contain drugs or worse?” My skull
vibrates. Just tight. Weak. “Time was imperative, they said. Why?”
T for Time. V for Victims.
Head spinning. Brain swamped. As my knees fail, I remember.
“Väktare. Pia said Lagens väktare.”
Falling. Where’s Kama?
VENDETTA – Sunday 26th July – 1 p.m.
Vague visions vex me as they
vanish. Memories return as Kama kisses me.
“You fainted, cariad. You need more time to
She’s kneeling on the grass
with my head in her lap. She caresses my face.
“No. We haven’t got
time. I fear what Lagens väktare
means.” I look up at Ffion and Uthyr, their brows creased. “I need to
go online. On my sister Gwawr’s computer.”
We sprint to the house and I
sign to my deaf sister.
Upstairs in her room, the
four of us squeeze behind Gwawr as she types Lagens väktare into
of the Law”
“Above the law. Vigilantes.
That’s their motivation. And my hyper-active tattoos are screaming Arms.”
Ffion. “Like they used on your boat? Or guns?”
“The canisters were not
tall enough for long weapons,” says Kama. “But disassembled ones,
handguns, or components would be a viable guess.”
Uthyr waves me to the
doorway. I trust my sister, but guessing she can lip read, Uthyr asks, “Should
we talk outside?”
“Gwawr’s my trusted
researcher – and my late tad knew
that – as does Ffion. She knows more than mam-“
“-About you and Kama as
well?” His smile eases my racing pulse. “Yes, I suspected when I
arrived. You make a great couple and my unit would validate that.”
As they look over at us, we call
the others over and suggest grabbing tea or coffee and sitting outside.
Drinking as we sit on the
wooden bench overlooking the farm, I attempt to relax. This is almost home –
this working farm. The sound of sheep. The glistening water where Kama and I
swam before not making love. Better to dive in again to banish the nightmare.
Utkin. Xander Utkin.
“Ffion, does Vivian’s
personnel file show any relationship to Xander Utkin, the guy Kama and I put
away for arson, earlier this year?”
Our DI closes her eyes. A
long pause when I wonder if this thread is coincidence.
“Vivian admitted Xander
was her brother when she applied to join CID, three months ago. However, she
was estranged from him and said he deserved to be locked up.”
“Any sign that she feels
that we are too soft on crime?”
“None. Like all of us
she sympathizes with the victims. Works tirelessly to resolve cases. I suspect
that’s one of the reasons that Wiley-“
her,” says Kama. “Those two are inseparable. Perhaps another
Perhaps vigilantes. Or are
“Their follow-up on your
deaths,” says Ffion, “has been exacting and sensitive.”
V for Vigilantes or Virtuous.
E for Exacting and Explosives.
A mobile phone rings. Uthyr’s.
“Varley.” He listens,
one hand rubbing his neck. “On the move? Which direction?” He nods then
glances at his watch. “I’m forty minutes away at least. Follow them and
keep me informed.” He snaps his phone closed.
“ Njörðr Hämnaren has
cast off?” I ask. “Heading where?”
“East. Possibly towards
Liverpool so outside the NWP’s operational area. But not my Marine Unit’s. If necessary,
I’ll contact our colleagues at Merseyside Police. We’ll continue monitoring the
transponder signals. Ffion, your team must find the vermin that think they are
above the law.”
M for Merseyside and Monitor.
Uthyr leaves us strategizing
beside the llyn.
“If we’re to draw them
out,” says Kama. “Sparkle and I are the prime bait and-“
“-Your usual jeopardy
approach,” says Ffion. “Last time nearly got you both killed.”
“Nearly is not stopping
me. Fainting was just a memory recall device – that worked.”
Like my tingling tattoos.
W for Weapons. A for Arms. E
for Explosives. S for Strategy.
V for Vendetta. Ours.
WAVES. Staggering ashore
having survived the watery nightmare. Where?
“Sparkle and I must
return to Aberdaron Bay and drown again.”
WHIPLASH – Monday 27th July – Dawn
Wounds washed by waves, we
lie waiting. Bodies wrapped around each other in what remains of our splinter-lacerated
wetsuits. The wind carries the sound of an outboard motor approaching.
A boat draws near to the rock
island in Aberdaron Bay. Seabird residents watch our rescuers – the two detectives
investigating our deaths.
“Thank God,” says
Wiley in English as he rushes forward. “We were on the Llŷn when control
“Some locals reported
glimpsing bodies out here on Ynys Gwylan-bach.” Vivian stares at us, eyes
wide. The rips and gashes? “Actually, the two guys that found your wrecked
I wriggle from Kama’s
embrace. Wiley lifts me and Vivian assists.
“If you can walk, we’ll
get you to the boat. Then we’ll return for you, Kama.”
I stagger. Feign weakness but
drag myself upright. Wary, but there’s a witness. Padrig watches from the boat
and hoists me as I struggle aboard.
“Welcome back. I feared
my lessons had been wasted when we found your wrecked boat.”
While Wiley and Vivian retrace
their steps to Kama, Padrig continues in Welsh.
“They show concern, but I’d
watch out. They’ve been asking strange questions.”
Subtle tingling. A for Alert.
W for Warning.
“For one, how we found
the boat and where? That was okay until today. They asked about this rock
island – Ynys Gwylan-bach. Why here so far from the wreckage? Currents should
have carried you and the wood from the hull in the same direction.”
“We swam towards the
He nods as our detective
allies return. A for Allies. W for Weasel.
“We need to get those
wounds treated,” says Wiley. “Splinter slashes might get
Once aboard, Vivian sits beside
Wiley, knees touching as Padrig heads to Aberdaron.
“We have your belongings
from the B&B in our squad car,” she says. “We went to Penrhos
yesterday – in case you had both returned there.”
I shiver, apprehensive but
not from the cooler air. E for Evidence.
Ashore, Padrig says, “I’ll be in the bar if you
need me, genethod. Dywed yn dda am
dy gyfaill, am dy elyn dywed ddim.”
Do our English colleagues understand? ‘Speak well of your friend; of your enemy say nothing.’ It doesn’t
matter. He verifies the tremors – our quarry is near.
In the National Trust car park, Wiley opens the white Ford
Focus’s tailgate, and nods at two suitcases with stickers promoting Patagonia.
palms his forehead. “We should have collected more suitable gear at your
home. But nobody knows the codes –”
“–for our weird security
doors,” says Kama. Not exactly true as Ffion does have them. “I’m
okay with these colours – for a few hours.”
We change in the pub’s
washroom. Wearing pastels instead of black is an acceptable price if we expose
the vigilante. I repeat Padrig’s warning on the island to Kama – in Tamil. Public
toilets have ears.
Outside, Wiley leads us back
to the car park. “DI Baines wanted us to get you checked by a doctor. So
were going to Tremadog – as it’s near the station.”
But with minimal
facilities. Why are no paramedics here?
No A&E arrangements? Ffion knows our injuries are superficial. But who
cancelled routine medical response?
O for Orders. M for
Wiley hands Vivian the keys
to the Focus, then climbs into the backseat beside Kama.
Are we being separated? I’m motioned
to the front passenger seat by an unsteady Wiley.
“All this messing around in
boats is exhausting,” he says.
Vivian laughs and fastens her
seatbelt. Then drives off along the B4413 towards Pwllheli.
“How long were you
swimming before you reached the island? All night?”
Suspicious of our story. Both?
Or just Vivian?
S for Suspect and Swimming.
I smile back. “Most of
Tuesday night. We tried to land but there were rocks and cliffs. Hard to find
anywhere at night.”
“Ynys Gwylan-bach was
the first place we saw where we could land. By then it was light,” says
Kama. “We slept for hours. Until you found us.”
“Keeping each other warm
seems – strangely sensible.”
Our secret relationship is
illicit in her eyes. AMOURS or ARMS?
Time this right. Wrangle it
“Basic survival. Our
wetsuits were useless in the cold air.”
Silence. Vivian seems
satisfied. Wiley is dozing.
Sweat on her forehead. She’s
thinking. Plotting? Remembering?
The case that convicted her
brother for arson?
“Have you seen your brother
She grits her teeth. Blinks
but stares at the road. “He took me to the races at Chepstow on a recent day-off.
Backed a few winners. He’s taking me to Ffos Las for Ladies Day later this
Intentional evasion. She’s
talking about her brother Quincy the goading polo player.
“Deservedly locked up –
unlike the women that put him there.”
Her fingers grip the steering
wheel tighter, turning white. Hate. Kama and me? Xander’s ex-wife and her queer
partner? All of us?
“He set fire to the stables
and poisoned their horses. Unprovoked and the jury found him guilty.”
“And ignored what drove him
to breaking the law. You and your partner were the arresting officers. You
ignored the provocation. Failed to report all the facts. Scorned divine law. I
can’t forget, but enough said – for now.”
Impassive but sweating.
So, divine law makes me
guilty. I’ve been a sinner for years – in chapel eyes. Even if I attend – when
crime allows. Guilty. Vigilantes against Gay Pride? Unreal and yet too
West of Mynytho, Vivian
throws a left onto the smaller B4415. We’re thrown to off-balance as she weaves
to straighten up down the lane between two stone walls.
Wiley is sound asleep. Trees
“Where are we
“Bangor – the A&E.
Or aren’t you really injured?” She smirks as she accelerates. “You
two are such fakes – except for your disgusting perversion.”
I try to grab the steering wheel,
but she just wrenches it to the side again, scraping the stone wall.
“This time, I’ll dispose
of you properly – and Wiley.”
A belt whips around her neck
and I wrest the wheel from her, steering us onto the rain-soft verge where the
“Never let an officer
sit behind you with a whip for a belt. Wisdom 101.”
I blow a kiss at my colleague
as I cuff Vivian, then drag her onto my side of the squad car.
“What did you give
Wiley? A sleeping draught?”
Another sick laugh. “Nothing
so inept. Diluted weever fish toxin sweetened with xylitol – no known antidote.
But he knew the risks of not punishing criminals. Death.”
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
Why? Pric pwdin.”
“I don’t have to say
anything. Not to you two dikes. To our DI, Ffion Baines – perhaps. Then, I will
mention everything that I will rely on – if this ever gets to court. If anyone
survives to witness this.”
A warped version of our
police caution. Do we need to warn her officially? Yes.
Kama does as she secures Vivian
inside the squad car.
X for Xylitol and Xenial. A
for Amours, Arms and Alert. N for Nervous and Names. D for Directions and
Deception. E for Envenom and Embittered. R for Retaliation and Revenge.
XANDER. How is he connected
to murder? Is he the real threat?
XANTHIPPE – Monday 27th July – Mid-morning
Xylitol, xerostomia, x-rays, xerosis? I’m confused by the
medical jargon. Wiley’s unconscious, and his skin is yellow and dry. Xanthic xerosis?
“Doctor, without the medical jargon, how is our
He glances at his watch. It’s an hour since we brought Wiley
into the A&E at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor – and another squad car took Vivian,
restrained, to Porthmadog.
“He is unconscious but breathing. All his vital signs
are acceptable. The x-rays show nothing is fractured. I cannot detect the
supposed toxin – yet. There are more tests I need to run.”
I try to breathe steadily. Hope Wiley’s okay. He has to be.
“So, his pallor? His skin. What’s that from?” asks
“Xerosis or abnormal dryness can occur in the eyes – xerophthalmia
– on the skin – xeroderma – and in the mouth – xerostomia. Of these, he
exhibits the latter two. So, we will test for asialism, ichthyosis and other causes.
“Keep us updated via our PCSO,” I say, smiling as
the same female officer who helped before.
Protection for one of our own? In a coma? But not with a
gaff. An unknown toxin? Is that what’s in the canisters? A biological or chemical
Shivers set off my tattoos.
A for Abnormal and Avenger. B for Breathing and Biological. C
for Coma and Chemical. D for Dryness and Death. V for Victim and Vigilante. I
for Intent and Identify.
Vivian or Pia? We need answers.
Monday 27th July – Midday
“ Njörðr Hämnaren is moored at Liverpool Marina?”
Uthyr answers on speakerphone in Ffion’s office.
“Yes, within a short walk of the city. But we are ready
to stop them unloading.”
“If the canisters are biological or chemical
hazards,” says Ffion. “The Swedes can release them from the boat –
into the air or the harbour. I’ve alerted NaCTSO, but we need more
The National Counter Terrorism Security Office will rely on
us to keep them informed so they can co-ordinate the appropriate units. But we
are acting on suspicions. My gut feelings.
“Has your rogue officer said anything helpful?” asks
“She’s evasive and shrewd. Playing with us. But she’ll
“I pray it’s in time to stop whatever the Swedes have schemed.”
“It will be, Uthyr. You know my dynamic-duo and rate
them suitable for your unit.”
I wonder who leaked that. Have they discussed our future?
Ffion rings off and motions for us to follow to an interview
suite – our only one with a two-way mirror. CPS approved.
“Suggested questions? I’ve tried the vigilante angle
and DC Utkin wanting to dispense her own justice.”
Utkin. Xander. That triggered her reactions.
“Ask what drove her brother Xander to commit arson. And
what divine law guides her.”
Ffion motions to the viewing room as she steps into the main
interview suite along with the police sergeant who was inside guarding the
Vivian is sitting with the defence lawyer she has requested.
Ffion switches the recorder on.
The lawyer plays his hand. “My client will only answer
questions that relate to her arrest.”
“The attempted murder of two officers. The canisters on
the yacht. Why she’s put another officer in hospital. So – everything.”
“Circumstantial associations,” says Vivian.
“Evidence massaged by two officers that resent me and my colleagues.”
“Officers that arrested your brother Xander for arson.
Valid? Or tampered evidence?”
Vivian stares hard at the mirror. Eyes burning into ours.
” I know this room and that ridiculous mirror. They’re
listening – your pet officers who arrested him. Yes, he deserved to be put away
for his crimes. But they drove him over the edge.”
Ffion opens a file. Xander’s case?
“By ‘they’ you mean his ex-wife Dinah Quinlan and her
partner Aerona Ogilvy? What did they do to pervert the law?”
Vivienne hesitates. Her lawyer shakes his head, then
whispers to her. Does he suspect what she might admit? Vivian glares at him, at
Ffion, at us. Anger triggered.
“The Lord’s Law. 1 Corinthians 6:9 – ‘Or do
you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be
deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who
have sex with men’. This is a Christian country and I respect that.”
“So, your fellow officers become legitimate
targets – even if they attend chapel like Sparkle. Or Wiley Yates who is as
heterosexual as you.”
Vivian shakes her head. “He agrees with your
dike pets and does nothing to correct their delusion. Unlike my friends. Their
belief is firm.”
Ffion pauses and flicks through the file. Page by
page. Vivian shuffles and sweats.
“Who is next? Me, another Christian who
believes in her officers? This vendetta won’t end with two or three dead colleagues.
What’s in the canisters, DC Utkin? Or are you as immoral as your brother? A
criminal and not one of my officers?”
Fists on the table, Vivian shakes her head.
“And if I help, what do I get? I only did this
to correct what our system failed to do – protect people. Without the police
presence, vigilantes are dangerous. I can stop that. With me involved, they will
“Help us do what? Do we need the containers?
Do we want them?”
“Xanthippe, they called me – confrontational. The
Swedes thought I wasn’t to be trusted. I challenged their aims too much. But I
know the best way to deal with misfits not them. This was my chance.”
“Now I’m offering you the chance to stop this – earn
My mobile rings. The PCSO at the hospital.
“DS Yates is recovering. The doctor says there was no
venom. Just a heavy sleeping draught. When he is well enough to talk, I’ll get Wiley
A bluff. Vivian is the fraud spinning a yarn.
R for Respect and Revenge. Y for Yacht and Yarn. A for
Abnormal and Avenge. D for Death and Duplicity.
YARD. A railway goods yard?
I message Ffion. “Wiley okay. Say he died. Not her
intention. So will break her.”
Ffion sits back, shakes her head and cries.
“Wiley. Why him? Didn’t he love you enough?”
Vivian claws her head, body shuddering.
Another red herring.
C for Casualties and Cons. K for Kisses and Kudos. O for
Opportunists and Objectives.
DOCKYARD. My tattoos convulse me.
Knees buckling. Mind churning letters and clues.
Kama’s arms around me. “Cariad. Not again?”
YOKE – Wednesday Mid-Evening
Yachting yarns yearn to be clues
but they’re not. Njörðr Hämnaren is
the decoy along with the containers. Vivian has been wasting our time. Under
We are parked in the shadows at
Holyhead Docks. My hunch must be correct.
“Trust me, Ffion. Three mnemonics told me to come
“That mental Scrabble board is very accurate. If it
wasn’t, we’d still be at Porthmadog – assessing our minimal leads.”
What happens if I’m wrong?
“And the mnemonics were?” asks Wiley. “I
always trust you.”
Another voice of confidence. Fired up on his release from Ysbyty
Gwynedd in Bangor.
“If it helps – DESPATCH, LARCENY, and GEMS. Our contact
here in the port confirmed that the shipment of gemstones is due from Eire on
the next boat. The handling agents are also taking action.”
Will that satisfy their insurers if we fail?
“G for Gnomes and Gaff. E for Elaborate and Evasive. M
for Manifest and Mirrors. S for Smoke and Sailing,” says Kama, interpreting
my thinking process.
“And the yacht with the containers,” asks Wiley,
catching up after missing the briefing. “Are they coming here? Did Vivian
I shake my head. “She was totally confused. Thought the
containers were contraband. The Pilkvists promised her a cut if she helped.
Part of their extensive ploy to keep our other divisions distracted –”
“– Even counter-terrorism,” says Ffion. “Vivian
folded and called the Swedes manipulative zealots. Their yacht left Liverpool
heading West, but Marine are following. Armed response is alerted, but they
need justification to attend.”
Will our Swedish victims show? Is my intuition valid? Are
the wrong resources being diverted?
The penny counters will make me pay – with my career.
Can we afford not to respond?
“Exposing me and Sparkle was personal revenge for
Vivian – a fringe benefit.”
Kama squeezes my shoulder – reassurance.
Ffion glances at her watch, then checks that uniform are
hidden across the arrival area.
Stefan Mikaelsson and Ivan Tjäder stroll by us, oblivious to
our squad car in the darkness.
As I surmised. Deceivers not victims.
Dressed as customs officers, they wait for the courier with
two colleagues. They check some cars but stay clear of the main customs area.
“Courier’s yellow Toyota Yaris approaching now,”
says a uniform officer over the radio.
The four thieves spot the vehicle and obstruct its path. Stefan
accosts the driver as Ivan approaches the passenger side. They draw pistols
from their jackets and throw the doors open.
They pull the courier out and force him into the back seat
between the two sidekicks.
“Don’t tackle them yet,” says Ffion. “We
don’t want innocent bystanders shot. Or the courier killed. Tail at a distance.”
As Ffion orders uniform to follow, I keep two car lengths
behind the Yaris. Stefan turns out of the port into the town centre.
My tattoos thrum. M for Marina and Y for Yacht.
“I’m contacting Uthyr,” says Kama. “If the
yacht left Liverpool heading west, where is it now?”
“Good call, Kama,” says Ffion. “Wiley, see if the local
force has other support they can spare. I’m advising armed response again. This
is escalating. With £10
million in gems plus guns, we’re at PIP three level.”
Ffion is an experienced Senior Investigating Officer – and
respected. But NWP are spread thin and these crooks know that. No thanks to
The Yaris drives along the opposite side of the harbour, past
the railway station, then left towards the Marina.
W for Water. S for Swim.
The marine unit updates us.
“ Njörðr Hämnaren has just dropped anchor west of The Skerries, due
north of Holyhead. We will await orders to board her and we have a customs
officer with us.”
“That may be necessary, Uthyr,” says Ffion.
“You are our only marine unit if these thieves escape us.”
Moonlight glistens of waves and boats. The Yaris slows and I
Imminent confrontation. Adrenaline. Jeopardy.
“Local cannot spare more uniformed officers. We’ll have
to depend on the two behind us.”
Ffion expels her breath hard. “And armed response is
still too far away.”
Only the guns outnumber us – except in the water. Who swims
As the thieves park the Yaris near a sailing club slipway, I
ease onto the embankment, cutting the lights.
“They’ve brought their Aberdaron boat for their
escape,” says Kama. “We need to borrow a boat or –”
“– Swim, if we need to. If we drop in off the quay
there, they won’t see us. Head to the breakwater.”
Ffion nods and turns to Wiley.
“Two of them seem to be staying with our courier. Arrest them. The armed
guys must be taking the gems to Njörðr
I sidle out of the car with Kama.
As Stefan and Ivan launch the clinker boat, we slip into the
water. Fully-clothed is a routine swim – some mornings.
Night hides our smooth passage out into the Marina harbour.
Headlights stab at the Yaris. Flashing blue lights add to
Stefan and Ivan hesitate.
They fire warning shots into the blinding beams. Officers are
diving for cover as we head for a channel marker buoy.
Our fleeing thieves raise their sails – at the third attempt
– then tack towards the channel.
“They’d make better progress with oars,” says
Kama. “Or an outboard. We’d better intervene before they hit another
We approach underwater, pulling ourselves aboard over either
side. The boat rocks and the crooks come alert. Both go for their guns.
We time our tackles to avoid capsizing.
The Swedes are strong.
My choke hold slips in the wet. Stefan’s knee jabs my
stomach. Gasp for air.
But one arm slips around his neck. He squirms, yet the hold
tightens. Without hesitation, I slam his head up against the boom.
“I used my fist,” says Kama. “More satisfying
but painful. Next time, I’ll whip them into shape.”
Stefan and Ivan are cuffed while unconscious, and Kama
retrieves the gem pouches.
We row the boat beyond the other craft and yachts, then sail
out to the Breakwater Lighthouse.
Ffion and Wiley are waiting as planned.
“Guessed you’d stop them. Uniform took the other guys
to the local station,” says Ffion. “Seems the courier conned these
guys – risked his life.”
Kama opens the pouches – cut glass fakes. Costume jewels.
“The handler’s security agent sent a second courier.
Ours is the decoy.”
“These rocks will do for the Pilkvists. We’d be remiss
not delivering them.”
Ffion hands me our radios. “And arrest the zealots. We’ll
ensure Uthyr knows to expect your boat off The Skerries. And take these as they’re
no doubt armed – but you’ve been trained in their use.”
Tasers. Z for Zealots. A for Assault. P for Police.
“With Zinfandel wine,” adds Kama. “You planning a Zenith
Party? Dancing? Zamacueca, zambra, zapateado and zydeco?”
“Distracting myself from mnemonic overload. A party sounds great when we’re
done with this case. And a Polish inspired zebra –”
“Wait and see, thozhi.
Will our disguises work? The customs uniforms from Stefan and Ivan are
a loose fit in places but adequate.
As we heave closer, Pia hails us – in Swedish.
“ Har du
‘Adeltsarna’ must be the
stones, so we give a thumbs-up.
Peder throws a line from the stern and we haul ourselves in. The ladder
is familiar, and we climb aboard, heads lowered.
Pia is waiting in the cockpit as Peder punches buttons to raise the
I toss over the three jewel pouches.
She stares at us, eyes flicking between the two zombies.
“Your colleague was meant to finish what we started.”
“As ineffective as your explosives. So, we’re here with the gems
instead of your inept divers.”
She hesitates then picks up the pouches.
“Well, seems you have a price as well. We thought DC Utkin was a
rare find. Three in one force is somewhat – American.”
We let her open the pouches as I arm my Taser X26, and Kama unfastens
her Savuku belt.
Pia tips out the costume jewellery as I step beside Peder.
“Fakes – like you two bitches. Where are the real gems?”
“On their way to the lawful client in Bangor with another courier.
Too many decoys these days.”
I zap Peder and he slumps to the deck. Kama’s whip curls around Pia’s
wrist before she can draw her hidden pistol. Then she restrains the Swede with
an arm lock.
We handcuff them and read them their rights.
“Uthyr, one pirate vessel secured,” I say on my radio.
“The canisters are exactly where we left them. My guess is – gnome
More deceptions – like Lagens
väktare, the illusionary Guardians of the Law.
Friday 31st July – Evening
The glass of White Zinfandel compliments the zany cosmopolitan spread.
I savour the strange blend of raspberry, coconut, spices and fish. But I miss
my velvet favourite – and the heat of Kama’s Ennai Kathirikai Kulambu.
As the sun sets with reds and oranges over the Bae Ceredigion and the Llŷn
Peninsula, I turn to Ffion, who is balancing her glass on her plate of select
“One more case resolved – 10 more to tackle.”
Paperwork alone never ends – especially all the justification demanded for
every penny spent
“As your tad always reminded
us, ‘crime never sleeps – even during Chapel.’ Did you get the email?”
My mind scrolls through the questions, comments and helpful spam
“The security company handling the shipping of the gems – from
“Yes. They thanked us for ensuring the safety of the Azure Stones.
The message said we came recommended. But not by whom. Just that Zoo Sécurité
would be in touch. Do you know more?”
A new mystery. The name meant nothing to me or Kama. Who suggested us?
Ffion shakes her head and frowns. “Can’t bear to have you two leaving
my team. Being head-hunted by a security outfit is serious.”
“Thought you were thinking of joining my unit,” says Uthyr,
bringing over a bottle. He tops up our glasses.
Kama takes my arm. “Sparkle and I are committed to helping CID for
a good few years. Dawn swimming from the nearby beach is all we need.”
Our future draws other concerned friends.
“You acquired that Aberdaron boat,” says Wiley, arm around
the PCSO from Bangor hospital. “That’s more than swimming.”
“It cost us – the accounts department wanted blood for it,” Our
friends laugh, but it’s almost true. I lift my glass to my cousin and his
partner. “Now, we’ve a regatta to
practice for – when Guto and Padrig have repaired her. And next year – watch
The strutting of our jackdaw, Negesydd
announces the start of the serious dancing at our Zenith celebration.
Zithers, drums and flutes echo into the Welsh night.
Midnight approaches and disappears. Nobody leaves. Is crime asleep, or
just lurking in the shadows? Dancing to its own rhythm.
Kama pulls me closer, and her scent of vanilla and bergamot embraces
“Must I wait to discover about this Polish-inspired zebra? Or can
we sneak away?”