I’m excited to introduce you to Dido’s Crown by Julie K. Rose today! Check out my review as well as an excerpt of the book and come back by Wednesday when I have an interview with Julie! Enjoy!
Dido’s Crown by Julie K. Rose
Publication Date: September 29, 2016
Paperback; 340 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary
Set in Tunisia and France in 1935, Dido’s Crown is a taut literary-historical adventure influenced by Indiana Jones, The Thin Man, and John le Carré.
Mary Wilson MacPherson has always been adept at putting the past behind her: her father’s death, her sister’s disappearance, and her complicated relationship with childhood friends Tom and Will. But that all changes when, traveling to North Africa on business for her husband, Mary meets a handsome French-Tunisian trader who holds a mysterious package her husband has purchased — a package which has drawn the interest not only of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, but the Nazis as well.
When Tom and Will arrive in Tunisia, Mary suddenly finds herself on a race across the mesmerizing and ever-changing landscapes of the country, to the shores of southern France, and all across the wide blue Mediterranean. Despite her best efforts at distancing herself from her husband’s world, Mary has become embroiled in a mystery that could threaten not only Tunisian and British security in the dangerous political landscape of 1935, but Mary’s beliefs about her past and the security of her own future.
Julie K. Rose is another favorite author of mine, as well as one of my most favorite people. She has unique style about her that is timeless, and in a way, her books have a similar feel to them. Dido’s Crown, her latest book that is set to release Sept. 29, 2016, might represent Julie in her truest form and with her greatest work to date (which as she knows is high praise as I really love her book Oleanna!). I am so excited to have been able to read an advanced copy and start of her promotional tour (no pressure at all!!). No really – it’s an honor and I can sincerely tell you all that if you like historical novels of adventure with touches of espionage and noir-type elements, this book should be on your to-be-read soon list. While Oleanna took my breath away and is a book I’ll never forget, Dido’s Crown tapped in to my love of adventure, mystery, and espionage, making it an exciting and fun read. It was another good book to settle into and I read it from front to back in no time at all because I was so intrigued.
Julie always writes books with a strong female lead and the focus here is Mary, who quickly has things go somewhat awry for her after she travels to North Africa and is given a package that has everyone on the alert – from Britain’s Secret Intelligence to the Nazis. While at first I found all the cast of characters a bit confusing and thrown at the reader all at once, I quickly understood that she had to expediently introduce them all in order to create an action-packed start to keep the reader turning pages. I might not have done it quite this way, but in the end it worked out fine for the novel and as the initial action waned into the mystery, we get time to meet each of the characters and Mary’s complex relationships with them. In this way, it was a little more James Bond-esque than John le Carre (and yes – I LOVE both those authors with a passion) but in the end the le Carre reference was correct as to the way she creates tension and unfolds the story. The plot is much like a slow brewing espionage novel like Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, with extra effort from Julie into the personalities of her characters and introducing more witty banter.
This novel reads like an old noir black and white or colorized film to me. Her dialogue is appropriate for the time of 1935 and she makes us feel as if we have been transported to that time period. It almost reads like an older Agatha Christie novel, which I adore, for instance, one set overseas with Hercule Poirot such as Murder in Mesopotamia, or maybe Murder on the Orient Express. Dido’s Crown isn’t a true detective novel, as in there isn’t a detective on any case, but Mary does wind her way all over the globe due to this mystery with danger around every turn. It’s more the atmosphere created and the style of writing by Julie that reminds me of Agatha Christie. The noir-feel is true as well due to the time period and in reference to it being inspired partly by The Thin Man. I can see how this relates to the book through the dialogue and the personalities of the characters. Then again, it also has the feel of any great BBC offering where espionage is involved in the plot. The way the scenes are set in the book appear as if they are on Masterpiece Theater.
Julie did an amazing amount of research for this book in many different areas and it truly shows. I loved all the different places and settings the book takes us to around the world. I feel her work with the Arabic language and culture in the book was very well-done as well and highly accurate. She captured the sounds and sights of Tunisia so well I could almost sense being there. For not being an ex-spy (not that I know of anyway!), as le Carre was, she also has a good grasp on intelligence work which she must have also gleaned through diligent and dedicated research. She must have had to research from WWI through the start of WWII. As the political scene was a hot bed at the time, with Hitler emerging as well as Mussolini and Fascism issues, there were so many historical connections to research and connect for this novel to build its foundation. Then, of course there were all the languages and the history of Tunisia! Julie did a wonderful job of making the historical climate interesting and accurate, while still letting us hold on to our hats so to speak on this adventure.
There were exhilarating parts to the novel, tension-filled scenes, as well as a few as the story began to wrap up that made me shed tears. And yet, I smiled at the end. I hope there might be more to come? Julie created such an interesting woman in Mary, a woman full of confidence, wit, smarts, and a solid head on her shoulders. I’d love to see her tackle more work around the globe with a certain someone (don’t want to give a spoiler).
I loved Julie’s successful attempt at writing a historical espionage novel so much that I am looking forward to more. Dido’s Crown was like a highly entertaining special episode of the Amazing Race, set in the political turmoil of 1935 and with an added mystery. The old school suspense feel was totally on point. I bet John le Carre will be contacting Julie K. Rose as an asset in the very near future!
If you’d like to read some of the novel for yourself – check this passage out!
Everything in the ancient port town of Bizerte dazzled: the white stuccoed buildings, the shimmering golden sand, the bleached sails of the dhows, the shocking turquoise of the Mediterranean. Shielding their eyes against the brilliance, Tom Harris and Will Simpson, Englishmen edging inexorably and uncomfortably into middle age, fanned their rapidly pinking faces with their hats. Standing together on a sweeping balcony, very close but not quite touching, they watched the dhows glide lazily in the distance.
“This is more the thing, isn’t it?” Tom asked, nodding at the sparkling water and the brilliant North African sky. “Better than that dark mediaeval place back in the bowels of the old medina.”
Will sniffed. “You never could stand squalor for long.”
Tom looked over at him. “I wouldn’t call that squalor, necessarily.”
Will raised his eyebrows in response.
“Fine. I defer to your formidable store of knowledge on the subject of squalor,” Tom said, turning away and looking back out at the water.
Will sighed. “Don’t let’s argue. It’s this devilish heat that’s making us cross.”
They subsided into silence again, checking their watches more often than was strictly necessary. Tom turned his back on the view and looked at their waterfront villa. It was well appointed, well located, and, most importantly, the staff was discreet.
“I suppose my father was good for something after all. Filthy lucre and all that,” Tom said.
“Yes, but blessedly useful filthy lucre. Don’t get sentimental and moral on me now, dear.”
Tom opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by the adhan of the mouathen, calling the faithful to prayer above the racket of automobile noise.
Will resumed fanning his flushed face. “Do you know, we’ve heard this scores of times these last few days, but I’ve never known exactly what he’s been saying.”
Tom smiled. Language, any language, made his skin tingle, his heart thrill. It always made significantly more sense than the people who spoke it. “Allahu Akbar, God is Greatest,” he translated. They listened silently, glancing occasionally at each other. “Hayyaʿalaṣ-ṣsalāt, come to prayer.”
“It sounds like music,” Will said.
Tom smiled, and he leaned closer as they listened to the ancient song flow through the streets. “Lāilāhaillā-Allāh, There is no God except the One God.”
The last melodic words of the call to prayer echoed away, and the busy streets of Bizerte slowed, like a wind-up toy creaking to a stop. Tom glanced at Will and they stepped back into the cool shade of their villa, closing the doors behind them.
If pressed, one would have to admit that they were neither of them cinema-handsome, yet admittedly there was an appealing sense of dash to them both. Will Simpson’s jaw was entirely too sloping, a great ski jump of a face. The wrinkles of middle age and a hard life scored his forehead under unruly dark hair which never seemed to be tamed by the pomade. His mouth, however, was full and sensuous, youthful and bewitching, often twisting in a wry grin.
Tom Harris was nearly as tall as Will, with individual features which would have been perfect on different people, but together looked strange under his curling dark hair: a weak chin, cupid’s bow lips, narrow icy cat’s eyes with deeply scored crow’s feet. When he laughed, he looked like a caricature; when in serious concentration, he was otherworldly and beautiful.
Tom tossed his fedora onto the desk alongside Will’s, smoothing back his hair and loosening his tie. He checked his watch and looked at Will, who was checking his own, unbuttoning his top button with one hand. At that moment, there was a knock on the front door, and a graceful young Tunisian man glided in with a tray, delivering a sweating bucket of ice, a carafe of water, two tiny steaming cups of strong coffee, and a small, orange-scented cake. He set the tray on the sideboard and paused, his eyes slightly widened.
“Merci,” Tom said.
The young man inclined his head. “Are you dining in this evening?” he asked in heavily accented English.
“No, but we will require breakfast in the morning.”
“Of course.Nine o’clock,” he said, raising his eyebrows, then held out his hand expectantly.
“D’accord, merci.” Tom gave the young man a 10-franc coin, ushered him out, and closed and locked the door behind him.
Will passed a demitasse to Tom. “So Saidini will be here at nine, then.”
Tom chuckled at the sudden flush on Will’s face and neck.
“You have a lot of cheek, Simpson,” he said. “He’s a contact, not a conquest.”
Will flashed Tom a mixed look of annoyance and fondness but didn’t deign to respond. Instead, he gestured Tom to the seat next to him and they sat carefully on the delicately carved but terribly uncomfortable olive wood chairs, sipping their bracing coffee. Tom looked up at the ceiling fan that did nothing but push the warm afternoon air around. “What now?” he asked.
“I was afraid you’d say that,” he sighed.
After long, lethargic minutes, Tom stood and poured them both new glasses of water. He moved aside the orange cake, searching for a knife with which to cut it; as he did, he found a piece of paper folded neatly under the plate. He glanced at Will, then unfolded the note, which had all the appearance of having been scrawled hastily; an unnerving drop of something now iron-brown obscured the ragged ends of words on the right margin.
He read the note through three times. When the contents finally started making sense, he handed it to Will with a shaking hand. “Why?” he asked.
Will ignored him and read through the note, his jaw tightening almost imperceptibly. Tom knew exactly what that meant: he had 20 years’ experience keeping an eye on the subtle shift of Will’s emotions. Tom ran a hand through his hair again. “Why is she here?” He winced at the note of panic that had worked its way into his voice.
“Why does she do anything?” Will snapped.
Tom ignored the jab and began to pace. “When they realize she doesn’t have it…”
“I know. Now be quiet and make yourself useful.” He handed the note back to Tom, who pulled an elegant silver lighter from his pocket. He clicked the flame into life, and watched the paper curl into dust in the crystal ashtray on the sideboard.
“Damn her,” Will said under his breath, unlocking a drawer on the desk and pulling out a sheaf of papers, a dog-eared map, and a sleeve of ammunition.
The town around them rumbled to life again outside their doors. “Just when we’d escaped your squalor,” Tom said.
“Mmm,” Will said, not attending. “Go charm the manager, won’t you? Hand her some of that filthy lucre of yours.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Tom said, heading for the door, half in a daze.
“We were so close, damn her. Always has to complicate things, doesn’t she?” Will asked.
Tom’s heart constricted, and he shrugged what could have been assent or a lifetime’s confusion. He stepped out into the bright, hot sunshine.
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Author Julie K. Rose, Biography
A member of the Historical Novel Society and former reviewer for the Historical Novels Review, Julie lives in the Bay Area with her husband and rescue cats, and loves reading, following the San Francisco Giants, and enjoying the amazing natural beauty of Northern California.
Her historical adventure novel, Dido’s Crown, has released in September 2016.
Oleanna, short-listed for finalists in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition, is her second novel. The Pilgrim Glass, a finalist in the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom competition and semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, was published in 2010.
For more information, please visit Julie K. Rose’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
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