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Book Review: The Skin of the Gods by Phil Armstrong

Skin of the Gods

The Skin of the Gods is packed with intriguing elements — ancient artifacts (an amulet, two rings, a golden box, a book and a Lemurian crystal), secret societies, portals and a rogue spirit. The action zips around chronologically and geographically, from the 1890s to the present day, to ancient Egypt and back to the present. Scenes take place in a Yorkshire village, in London, Egypt, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Cologne and even in a Tim Horton’s coffee shop in Burlington, Ontario! A few key scenes take the reader to the Duat, the Egyptian underworld. There is a dizzying array of characters, but the principal ones are Beth Martindale, her fiance Matt (who disappears in Chapter 3), Paul Smith, a 19th-century Englishman, and the Egyptian pharaoh Narmer and his wife Queen Nithotep. Many others come and go as needed to move the plot along. The characters are motivated by the classic themes of rivalry, bitter hatred, desire for revenge, and love.

Once the various plot elements are introduced and the time shifts start to make sense, the story becomes fairly compelling. I was happy to follow Beth’s search for Matt, and the transitions of the artifacts of power from their creation to their ultimate fate, as they become objects of desire and pass through various hands, affecting the characters along the way. Getting to that point was a bit of a slog, however, because the author provides a good deal of extraneous information, often describing someone or something several different ways within a single paragraph. Historical background information makes an intrusive appearance in a few places. Beth Martindale’s quirk of reciting quotations adds a touch of humour, but in situations of distress or urgency it’s contrived and irritating.  There are problems with apostrophes, a few awkward usages (such as “stout in stature,” and “tenants” instead of “tenets”) and unnecessary capitalization of some words, such as “Beagle” (the dog breed). Because of these problems, I almost gave up reading within the first 50 pages, but persistence resulted in a fairly entertaining reading experience.

The Skin of the Gods is available as a free download from Smashwords.

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Book Review: Short Stories : Crimes, Cults and Curious Cats by Jonathan Day

Crimes, Cults and Curious Cats

I was attracted to this book by its cover, which is certainly spiffy. A curlicue dragon and a very strange looking cat face. This collection of ten stories by UK author Jonathan Day features “crimes, cults and curious cats,” as its subtitle proclaims, but it also has a lot of cops. Almost every story includes someone who is a PC, DC, DS, DI or DCI, and often more than one of these ranks is present.

“Cock-a-Doodle-Do!” has a couple of women PCs on the trail of a disruptive mechanical cock (rooster) who experience an encounter with a peculiar cat (probably the one on the cover image).

In “Willow Pattern World” a tatooed detective with unique talents pursues a murderous chemist.

In “Feeding the Monster,” an elderly woman with extreme synesthesia helps her detective nephew investigate a derelict windmill with a sinister history.

“The Impossible Detective” is the best of the batch, in my opinion. A feisty female DS (nicknamed Tweet) on the track of a missing child encounters the ghost of a murdered detective, and reopens a cold and grisly case involving an evil cult.

In “Behold, the Face of God!” two privileged young ladies are introduced to a fossil-hunting cult which has combined science and religion in a most startling way.

“Our Lady of the Herbs” features a woman vicar and a scholar of ancient texts digging into the origins of a quaint village festival, and then struggling with whether to reveal the results of their investigations.

In “The Greening of Toby Jug” a ghost hunter hoping to snare a poltergeist has a fatal encounter with greed and destruction.

In “The Hammer of God” a young DC investigating the murders of three elderly eccentrics begins to wonder about his superior, who is a priest as well as a DI.

“Cosmic Cats” is a short, dream-like tale that I found to be the weakest of the ten.

In “The Cult of the Bast Cat” a young PC tracking down the drug-addicted father of an infant ends up working with a Chief Superintendent to discover the fate of a detective who disappeared while investigating the Cult of the Bast Cat.

The sincere and straightforward tone of these stories cleverly conceals occasional subtle social commentary. Several of the detectives are women and a few are from ethnic minorities. The primary characters are sympathetic and distinct. Dialogue is lively and sometimes quite funny. Every one of these stories is engaging and most are thoroughly satisfying.

Short Stories : Crimes, Cults and Curious Cats is available free on Smashwords.