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Thursday 28 October 2021

Vampires and black magic are not just for Halloween!


Zondadari never ceased to be filled with dread anticipation before the transformation.

            In the privacy of his secluded Maltese villa he stood on the stone balcony, dressed in black leather, his shoulders draped with a cloak of the same colour and material. Very theatrical, but appropriate. As the pains filled his chest and raked across his back, he hunched forward, his fingers grasping the stone hand-rail for support. Mediterranean fir-pine trees cast their deep velvet shadows onto the balcony, concealing most of the pale yellow moon. Shadows were his friend.

            Slowly the organic material of his clothing pressed against him, even into him, taking on the contours of his large muscular body. A straying wild bird flew over and shrilled and then darted away quickly, discouraged by the unholy smell that emanated from him during his change.

            One day, he feared, his heart wouldn’t hold out against the battering it took.

            Coherent thought shimmered. He started seeing double; then multiples of everything. Disoriented, he lowered himself down on one knee. It would be a few minutes more before he would be able to control the numerous images.

            Small gaping flesh-red mouths, with razor-sharp teeth, appeared on the surface of his body. Disproportionately large furry ears flicked out at all angles and black beady eyes glistened all over him, like a constellation of the devil.

            Five minutes of harrowing pain passed and already he was separating, literally coming apart. With an unpleasant sucking sound, dark shapes peeled off from the form that had been a man. But he was a man no longer.

            With a flick of thin yet deceptively strong leathery wings, the freed bats broke away from each other and landed on the balustrade.

            The shape-shifting was complete. His mind was the sum of these forty-six creatures. He could see through the eyes of a single animal or perceive separate images through all of them. They did his bidding – because they were him in every sense. Every sense.

            The hunger was upon him again.

            As one, the bats flew up into the night sky

This cross-genre thriller is set in present-day Malta and has echoes from pre-history and also the eighteenth century Knights of Malta.

Malta may be an island of sun and sand, but there’s a dark side to it too. It all started when some fishermen pulled a corpse out of the sea... Or maybe it was five years ago, in the cave of Ghar Dalam…

Spellman, an American black magician, has designs on a handpicked bunch of Maltese politicians, bending their will to his master’s. A few sacrifices, that’s all it takes. And he’s helped by Zondadari, a rather nasty vampire.

Maltese-American investigative journalist Maria Caruana’s in denial. She can’t believe Count Zondadari is a vampire. She won’t admit it. Such creatures don’t exist, surely? She won’t admit she’s in love with him, either...

Detective Sergeant Attard doesn’t like caves or anything remotely supernatural. Now he teams up with Maria to unravel the mysterious disappearance of young pregnant women. They’re also helped by the priest, Father Joseph.

And there are caves, supernatural deaths and a haunting exorcism. Just what every holiday island needs, really.

Where there is light, there is shadow…

Some reviews extracts:

Kay Lesley Reeves (Spain)
I'll never look at bats in quite the same way again. An original twist on vampire legend with a hint of tongue-in-the-cheek humour.

Mr M. C. Iles (UK)
I visited Malta many years ago and Morton’s description is spot on. In fact his research is so exact that half-forgotten memories soon came flooding back and I found myself walking those ancient streets once again. A dark and classical tale with excellent twists that will keep readers enthralled.

Angela M.
… has a strong structure and is full of rich writing and action. The plot has page turning twists and the main characters are likeable, especially the female lead. I hadn't read a vampire book in a while and was reminded of how intensely gruesome they can be. While this one has its squeamish moments it's not atypical for the genre, and I can't help liking a well written book! The Malta setting was perfect, making this a great escape read.

E. B. Sullivan (California, US)
Set in picturesque Malta (the book) offers the reader a refreshing twist on the popular vampire genre. Mr. Morton weaves a story with multiple surprises. From the beginning, his plausible and complex characters lure the reader deeper into his yarn. In particular, Maria and Michael are hypnotic, compelling, and seductive. The desire to learn more about these romantic and dashing figures makes this book a true page-turner.

Available from Amazon worldwide - e-book and paperback

Wednesday 27 October 2021

THE HAUNTING - Book review

This is Alan Titchmarsh’s eighth novel (published 2011) and the first of his that I’ve read. Titchmarsh is a gardener who became a broadcaster in TV and radio. His first novel was published in 2001.

The Haunting (an over-used title) is an episodic tale alternating between two time periods: 1816 and 2010.

In 1816 a housemaid Anne Flint goes missing at the same time as the daughter of the local lord is found dead by the stream. The mysterious death is compounded by the fact that the dead girl is wearing Anne’s clothing…

In 2010 history teacher Harry Flint is nearing the end of his tenure at St Jude’s School. He is still recovering from a failed marriage and purchases Mill Cottage where he will spend his time with his many books and tracing his ancestry…

Gradually, with consummate ease, the mystery is resolved.

The book relies on several coincidences, but that’s no bad thing. Life is full of them. The same goes for the plethora of clichés – people use them all the time.

The characters, both main and subsidiary, are rounded and interesting. There’s humour and pathos, and humane warmth. Certain unsavoury aspects in the past are dealt with off-stage.

The recounting of a death is restrained and very affecting.

Titchmarsh excels in description of both place (especially evocative with his broad knowledge of plants and trees and wildlife) and character: viz.

April 16, 1816: ‘Air as clear as crystal; the sort of day when the whole world seems to sparkle and glisten – freshly laundered by a shower of rain, buffed up by the gentlest of breezes and then polished to perfection by clear sunlight.’ (p1) Then the same words are used for April 16, 2010 (p11). Emphasising parallels in time.

‘Around her shoulders lay an elaborate wrap that had seemingly once belonged to a member of the fox family blessed with three heads and five feet, and upon her head sat a collection of feathers which, had they been seen in the road, would have been identified as an unfortunate thrush who had come off badly in an argument with a coach-and-four.’ (p143)

Author intrusion is not greatly apparent until the last (ill-judged) paragraph.

I intend to read another of Alan Titchmarsh’s books – The Scarlet Nightingale (2018) soon.

Monday 25 October 2021



Jeffery Deaver’s 1995 psychological thriller Speaking in Tongues didn’t get the paperback treatment in UK until 1999. The back of the book offers up a small mystery: ‘Filled with the brilliant twists and turns that are Jeffery Deaver’s hallmark, this is the long awaited, completely revised paperback debut of his classic thriller.’ The mystery is – what was ‘completely revised’?

Meghan is a troubled teen and is marginally schizophrenic. She is attending a session with her therapist; only it’s a new guy, Aaron Matthews. He’s much better than the usual fella, bald Hudson. Smooth-talking, approachable – until he injects her with a drug that knocks her out.

For several years Meghan’s parents have been separated. Mother Bett has had a string of failed relationships. Father Tate Collier is a retired lawyer who spends his time on the family farm and barely sees Meghan from one month to the next. Tate was a glib talker when in the courtroom. So there are two men who both have a way with words that can convince.

Ostensibly, it seems that Meghan has run away from home, having left an accusatory letter. But it doesn’t seem quite right. Tate calls in favours from friends in law enforcement. Gradually, it dawns on them all that Meghan has been abducted. Worse, people who might have been in contact with Meghan just prior to her absence start dying…

The past is coming to haunt Tate… 

This is yet another edge-of-seat Deaver thriller, told mainly from the point of view of Tate, Bett, Meghan and Matthews. Nobody seems safe.

Un-put-down-able all the way to the end.

Saturday 16 October 2021


Sharpe’s Assassin is Bernard Cornwell’s twenty-second Sharpe novel (number 21 in his timeline/chronological sequence), his first Sharpe book in fourteen years. This tale follows immediately after Sharpe’s Waterloo (1990). Needless to say, we know Sharpe survives, since he appears in Sharpe's Devil (1992) which takes place some five years after Waterloo.

At Waterloo Sharpe lost a number of his chosen men and the story begins with our two heroes, Patrick Harper and Sharpe burying Daniel Hagman. He is summoned by the Duke of Wellington.

The Duke gives him the task of freeing some prisoners from the citadel at a nearby town called Ham. One prisoner in particular is important, an Englishman called Alan Fox. It’s considered a fool’s errand. But it is necessary. As the Duke says, ‘For this job we need a ruthless bastard.’ And that’s Sharpe.

While he’ll be away Sharpe’s battalion is handed over to a newly arrived Major Morris. This is not good news. Years ago Morris was responsible for Sharpe getting flogged for something he didn’t do. Now, however, Sharpe outranks Morris.

All Sharpe wants to do is retire to Normandy with Lucille, his common-law wife. After this last task, perhaps?

Yet the assault on the Ham citadel leads to the revelation that a cabal of Frenchmen have organised to wreak havoc on the occupying forces, with the intention of assassinating British high-ranking officers, in particular Wellington. Sharpe and Harper enter occupied Paris in search of this evil fraternity.

As with the earlier Sharpe books, the fiction is laced with historical events, lending added authenticity.

Throughout, the voices of the TV series’ actors resonates in the dialogue. There’s blood and gore aplenty, clever tactics to confound the enemy, lashings of humour at the expense of the French, honour and betrayal, and bold and foolhardy bravery.

Welcome back, Richard Sharpe! You’ve been away far too long.

Friday 15 October 2021


Way back in 2001 I purchased the first two Image comics in a trilogy with the overarching title of Ministry of Space. For some reason I never managed to get hold of the third concluding part.

Finally, I’ve obtained the graphic novel version (3rd printing) dated 2004.

Being a reader and fan of the Dan Dare stories from Eagle, I was drawn to this comic because its artwork appeared to be paying homage to the greats Hampson and Bellamy.

The team consists of: Warren Ellis, writer; Chris Weston, artist; Laura Martin, colourist; and Michael Heisler, letterer. And they’ve done a splendid job of it.

The story begins in 2001 in an alternate history, where England had already conquered space, complete with the space station Churchill. Great Britain’s Ministry of Space is headed by Professor Dashwood. He’s being alerted that the Americans are finally going to launch their own spaceships. Then there’s a flashback to Peenemunde, 1945, where the Americans are secretly bombed by the British, denying them the space rocket secrets… The story moves through the 1950s and 1960s to the colonisation of Mars. The dark mystery as to how Britain stole a march on the allies in the race to space is slowly revealed...

Weston’s artwork is excellent. The detail in every page is simply outstanding. There are several splash pages that enhance the story: for example when Dashwood’s experimental rocket crashes into a windmill – you can virtually see every splinter of wood!


Note: Warren Ellis is the author of the graphic novel Red  - a Bruce Willis movie - among countless other comics.

Thursday 14 October 2021

TRAITOR'S KISS - Book review


It’s a few years since I’ve read any Gerald Seymour thrillers; I’ve had Traitor’s Kiss on my shelf since 2004, its date of paperback publication (originally published 2003). I have yet to be disappointed in one of his novels, and I’m happy to write that this is no exception. Even when some feature a downbeat ending, I’ve appreciated the storytelling, the research, the characters and the honesty in the writing.

It begins in 1998 when a Russian officer hands over a wad of secret papers to a British trawlerman in the port of Murmansk. The papers are delivered to SIS operative Rupert Mowbray; genuine details from Captain Viktor Alexander Archenko, Russian Navy.

Some five years later, a dead drop by the Archenko doesn’t happen. The SIS handlers fear the worst: their contact is blown. But Archenko isn’t, though he has detected security men shadowing him. So begins a race against time – before the net closes in on a useful asset.

Some in the higher echelons of SIS consider the asset is a lost cause. But this goes against Mowbray’s sense of honour: he wants to organise an operation to get Archenko out.

As the Mission Impossible team is unavailable, Mowbray seeks the help of ex-SAS men – Billy, Lofty, Wickso and Ham – to extract Archenko from under the noses of the Russians. Closing in on Archenko is Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Bikov, an experienced interrogator.

At just over 500 pages, this tense thriller is a fast page-turner, all of it believable. Helping Mowbray is Alice, who was at the first clandestine meeting with Archenko all those years ago. She’d fallen in love with him and was now with Mowbray and the extraction team heading for Kaliningrad. All the familiar tropes are here – intelligence hardware, tradecraft, weapons, insider knowledge of the Russian naval system, soul sapping suspense of constantly being aware of being a traitor, the justification for the deceit, the bravery and heroism of the various protagonists.

Highly recommended.