Top positive review
14 of 14 people found this helpful
on 17 September 2011
This anthology of twelve stories spans over four thousand years of history and features stories set in the Bronze Age, 7th century Ireland, Britain in the 1600's and the run up to the Second World War, amongst others. Each novella is substantial enough in length to convey a more complete story, many similar collections feature works of a somewhat shorter length which can result in a rushed pace and an underdeveloped storyline, but here is an anthology which allows each author more time to establish the plot, the results being much more substantial stories that leave the reader satisfied with a nicely rounded story. At the start of each new work Ashley has written a brief introduction to the story and its author, which was a nice touch I thought.
Certainly the most enjoyable story in the collection is Hide and Seek, written by Tony Pollard. It's situated, fittingly, at the very centre of the book. Its 1605, the Gunpowder Plot has failed and those conspirators who evaded capture are on the run. We are introduced to Nicholas Owen, the man responsible for creating the most ingenious priest hides within the houses of recusant families during a time when Catholics were persecuted by law. Owen soon finds himself taking sanctuary at Hindlip House in a hiding place of his own making after he is tasked with keeping safe a dangerously implicating piece of evidence. The local Justice, Sir Henry Bromley, (whose incompetence is revealed in due course,) believes the conspirators to be in hiding there and sets to work England's most successful priest-hunter; Jonathan Noyce; to seek out those hidden within the walls of the house, though more is being concealed than just Catholic vestments or a master architect. It falls to the lady of the house to comply with the search, and comply she does as the hunter begins to seek out the hunted, listening to the house for any clue to its secrets before a surprising and unexpected twist occurs. The story then reflects back to the desperate conspirators who have in their possession damning evidence of Spain's funding of the uprising. They take refuge at Holbeach House and hear Mass before three of the group leave. Only one other manages his escape, but not before a chance meeting that will serve him and Owen well in future events. Those who are left prepare themselves for the worst in an explosive turn of events. The story moves forward again to Owen and, accompanied by a familiar companion, they set about ridding themselves of the evidence that, if recovered, would not only have damaging consequences for them but also England and Spain.
Pollard has managed to pace the story perfectly and there are a frequent moments of fabulous writing; "... the prospect of a shared death draws men closer than even the smallest of priest holes" is lovely. He has managed to create all the detail, atmosphere and suspense of a full-length novel and then perfectly condense it into a short story.
Also of note is The Fourth Quadrant. Set in 1834, it follows Miss. Ada Byron (later to become Ada Lovelace) as she puts to work her impressive mathematical prowess to assist her friend Mr.Charles Babbage, inventor of the Difference Engine, in unravelling a code which baffles the local constabulary and ultimately spells danger for her. Ada takes centre stage in this story which could quite easily have been overshadowed by Babbage and his invention.
All in all it's a book well worth buying and I'd highly recommend it.