Read excerpts from my books below. 'The Jesus Machine' is a short, high-concept thriller involving time-travel to the first century AD. 'Blood of the Wolf' is an adventure story featuring werewolves, set in Ireland during the Cromwellian conquest. 'The Golden Legend' is a fantasy set in the Middle Ages that puts a super-hero spin on the lives of medieval saints.
THE GOLDEN LEGEND
When the Archangel Michael hears that Joan of Arc will be his downfall, he plots her destruction. Fighting him, Raguel, the Angel of Justice, and the saints he trusts, must save her and themselves by crossing a secret bridge to the next world. But when Joan starts to care for one of history’s greatest villains, that plan is jeapordised.
They made the short journey to Saint Ouen in total darkness. A blacked-out carriage had been provided to transport them. They did not want Joan paraded openly through the streets. In theory, this was a town hostile to Joan but, in practice, many people in Roeun still loved her. In an open cart or on foot, the short journey might become a rally of support. So Joan sat in the dark and listened.
Despite the precautions taken by her captors, the carriage drew the attention of the townspeople. “Long live the Maid!” someone’s voice echoed in the narrow street, as they passed. Others simply cried out her name and, in response, she heard soldiers lash out and beat back her supporters. She heard people cry out in pain, wood splinter and pottery crash to the the ground. Several times they had to stop as their military escort was overwhelmed by the crowd. Eventually she felt the ground change from cobble to earth and she guessed they had entered the cemetery of the abbey of Saint Ouen.
When the carriage door opened, Joan was temporarily blinded by the May sunshine. It was a beautiful day but blustery and the first sound she heard was the flapping of dozens of banners at the gate of the cemetery. It seemed every knight and bishop in Normandy was present. The mounted soldiers guarding her drew back to let her to pass and she caught sight of the two stages that had been set up for the day. On her right, in the shadow of the great church, a set of covered benches comfortably accommodated several dozen lords and clerics. Joan recognised Bishop Cauchon immediately and to his left, on a throne, Henry Beaufort – the English Cardinal. On her left she saw another wooden scaffold surrounded by firewood. A ladder led to a platform where several grim men stood watching. Two were well-dressed and looked like they might be English – perhaps agents of the Earl of Warwick but the last man wore the hood of an executioner. Joan looked to Massieu and wondered had he lied or had he been mistaken.
“Don’t worry,” Massieu reassured her, “this is a pantomime for the benefit of the Cardinal. You’ll not die today.”
There were hundreds of people present – packed into the cemetery or sitting on the perimeter walls, hanging out of the windows of the surrounding houses and perched on every rooftop. There were murmurs when she appeared. A few brave souls called out words of support before being silenced by the soldiers, but mainly they stood gaping in silent awe. Joan’s heart filled with hope. She had not seen her own people – ordinary, poor people – since her capture. She had had no idea what they thought of her. And here were soldiers holding them back in the heart of enemy territory. If today was about theatrics, they had really misjudged their audience. She looked at the powerful men sitting on the bench and wondered, not for the first time, how they managed to remain so stupid – for all their education.
Once Joan was led to the top of the scaffold, her accusors made another error. Rather than start by condemning her with accusations of witchcraft or with attacks on her Valois King – either of which might have drawn sympathy from this crowd – they started proceedings with a long, tedious sermon from one of Cauchon’s deputies, Guillaume Erard. Perhaps the intent was to tire Joan out; she had to remain standing while her accusors sat. But most of the crowd were standing too and they were not impressed by the quality of the entertainment. The morning was growing hot, the cemetery was too large for Erard’s voice to carry and what little the crowd could hear was boring. They wanted drama and they wanted to hear from Joan. Their grumbling grew louder and more frequent till Cauchon himself had to interrupt proceedings to reprimand the crowd.
It took more than a long sermon to wear Joan down. By the time Cauchon’s deputy had finished she was as fresh as ever and ready to play whatever part was required of her. The Bishop himself took over and explained to Joan what was going to happen: He would show her a document and he would ask her to sign it. He drew her attention to the well-dressed men who shared the platform with her. One of them stepped forward and showed Joan a piece of paper with a few lines of writing. Cauchon knew Joan could not read so he asked Massieu to read it for her: It was a promise to give up men’s clothing. Nothing more; no condemnation of King Charles, no denial that she had visions of saints, no confession of heresy nor of any wrong-doing whatsoever. Joan looked at Massieu in disbelief and laughed. The crowd cheered this display of humanity before Cauchon scolded them into silence. Joan regained her composure and studied the paper. She had learned to write her name so she recognised the letters she used for that but otherwise it meant nothing to her. It was short enough to say no more than Massieu had read and she trusted him not to mislead her, but still she hesitated.
“Will the accused please indicate whether she intends to sign the document?” Bishop Cauchon called out, making sure the whole crowd could hear him.
She suspected a trick. The crowd would see her sign one innocuous document but her accusors might replace it with another. That was one concern.
As well as that, she asked herself, do I want to give up these clothes? It would mollify the Bishop and Michael too, and though she felt no strong urge to give either what they desired right now, she was not petty. She had no attachment to the clothes themselves save the insurance they provided against rape. That was the only concern. And it was real. She looked around at the men who surrounded her. She was a head shorter than the men beside her on the platform. The executioner was a big man. She imagined him breeching the privacy of her jail cell. She could never hope to fight him off. She looked at the other soldiers who stood guard around the cemetery. They all stared back. Under helmets, behind shields and armour, they all menaced. On her far left, at the back of the crowd, she caught sight of a giant. He looks like another soldier, she thought. What chance would I have against him?
“Well Joan?” Father Massieu leaned in, urging Joan to give an answer.
She was still staring at the huge man who had caught her eye. But I have nothing to fear from him, she thought, and she smiled. He beamed at her and slowly extended his right arm to draw her attention to his companions. Joan gasped. On his right, as tall as any man (how had she missed her before now?), stood Margaret, and beside her, visible only from the nose up but clearly identifiable, was Catherine.
“Well?” Cauchon boomed. He was growing impatient. “Will you sign?”
Joan didn’t take her eyes from the two friends she had recognised in the crowd lest they disappear. Margaret raised a hand in greeting. Joan looked to Catherine who had stood on her toes and leaned against a blind man beside her to make herself more visible. She was nodding urgently. She was advising Joan what to do. And she had promised to protect Joan in just these circumstances.
Joan took the piece of paper from Massieu and a pen that was offered by one of the Englishmen. And she signed.
BLOOD OF THE WOLF
As Cromwell conquers the west of Ireland, his army captures a werewolf and makes plans to unleash a deadly plague on the last city offering resistance. Only a group of misfits – a common English soldier, a priest, a pair of wealthy scientist siblings and a servant girl – can prevent the slaughter.
Katherine left the room and stood in the hall. One of the dogs came over and licked her. She pulled her hand away, then held it open and looked into her palm. The necklace she’d taken from the body was still there. The hall was cold and dark. She looked at the ring. Again, it looked like a skull and she felt herself shiver. It’s not mine, she thought. If there’s to be any rest tonight, I must return it. She hurried to her room and found her heavy winter cloak. She was chilled and could not get warm all day. She threw it on and grabbed an oil lamp from the upstairs corridor. The rain was beating against the glass. There’d be no moonlight to show her the way to the orchard.
She took the stairs leading directly to the laboratory to avoid meeting anyone. The usual smell of sulphur was cut with a less familiar scent of straw. The floor was still littered with the packing from Hartlib’s delivery which Robert had opened but not yet cleared. The room was chaotic. It was no bigger than the dining room and might have served as an adequate library but, for the Boyles, it housed both books and an array of scientific apparatus. Glassware, bellows, stoves and reams of paper filled a long central table and the walls, where not glazed, were lined with over-stuffed shelves. Katherine moved carefully to avoid collisions. She exited silently through the heavy wooden side door and felt her face whipped by a squally shower of rain. She pulled her hood up over her head. November was finally living down to expectations. She raised one side of her cloak to shelter the lamp and proceeded towards the farmyard. There was little noise apart from the bleating of lambs in the barn and the rain hissing through the treetops. Once she reached the walls of the orchard and entered through the narrow stone archway, she found some shelter. She was able to hear her footsteps once again as they squelched along the central path towards a fallow patch of ground inside the back wall. There, half a dozen unknown souls had been buried without names, if not ceremony, since the war had come to Limerick.
The darkness under the trees was total and her lamplight counted for little. She slipped and wobbled a few times as her shoes hit some putrefied piece of fruit but at least in the relative silence, she could rely on her hearing. There was the drip drip of rainwater on leaves and an occasional thump when some sluggish apples gave up the fight with winter and fell to the ground. She was quick to rationalise the noises but they perturbed her nonetheless. Despite the lack of moonlight, there was still a contrast between the inky black cover of the apple trees and the dim light from the open sky. She was glad when she reached the clearing by the back wall. At the end of the orchard, she could make out the mounds of earth where the bodies plucked from the river bank had found rest. She knew where to look for the newest one. She expected to see a fresh mound of earth. Instead, she found an empty hole. Her heart pounded. Another thump. She whipped around. She could see nothing in the darkness of the trees. She looked at the grave again, this time holding her lamp close to the hole. It was a mess. Soil had been pushed out from the grave. A deep furrow emerged from one end where some great weight had dragged or been dragged out.
Far off a wooden door smacked in the wind.
Her nerve failed and she ran. As she raced down the orchard path, her hood blew down. She reached up and, distracted, stepped with her whole weight on some slimy fruit residue. She tumbled onto the muddy path and grazed her hands. Her lamp went flying and fizzled out. She looked up. All was black, save for the narrow exit in the distance. She rose and continued running. Once through the arch, she’d see the lights of the house. Near the tree line, the roar of the wind and rain filled her ears. The grey shape of the arch grew brighter, then suddenly dimmed as a huge silhouette blocked her way. She plunged into the shape and felt strong arms save her from falling. She looked up. It was the dead man.
THE JESUS MACHINE
When time travel is invented, a sociopathic billionaire leads an invasion of the Roman Empire, pledging to locate Jesus Christ before his crucifixion. His sinister hidden agenda is uncovered by a famous ex-gladiator, two determined journalists, and three bickering friends.
Francis MacManus was worried about Marta. Whoever sent her the picture of the dead preacher was dangerous or foolish, or both. He’d asked her not to meet them. She’d refused. He’d asked her not to do anything without discussing it with him first. Now, he’d missed three calls from her. Something was up. He tried calling back but couldn’t get through. Reluctantly, he decided to ask Kevin Emery if he’d heard from her. He crossed the OCN compound to Emery’s container, mounted the steps to the steel door and tapped loudly against it till he heard a response inside, “Come in.”
Emery was at his desk. He lifted his chin to acknowledge his visitor.
“Hey,” Francis said.
“What do you want?”
“Marta. You know where she is? I can’t get her.”
“She’s in Jerusalem. On a job for me. Probably too busy to get back to you. I’ll tell her you called.”
“You talk to her today?”
Emery hesitated, “No, last night.”
Same as me, Francis thought.
“She called me three times. She doing something important?”
“Not if she has time to call you three times.”
They stared at each other for a moment.
Francis offered, “look, Kevin, I’m just worried about her. She’s into something dangerous.” He noticed Emery squirm. “You know something. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Like I said, she’s in Jerusalem. She’s finishing a story on the gladiator, Gelasius.”
“We both know she’s not covering your Gelasius story.”
Emery realised Marta kept MacManus fully informed. He had nothing to lose by telling him the same lies he’d told her: “It’s not the Gelasius story you’re thinking of. The preacher reward; Marta’s found a lead on his whereabouts. Gelasius, or at least, the JLM are offering a reward for that information. Marta is getting both parties together. I set it up myself.”
Francis was appalled. “You set this up?”
Emery saw his reaction and answered defensively, “Sure, it’s a great story. She was very grateful.”
“Who’s your JLM contact?” Francis demanded. He didn’t believe Emery had ever met anyone from the JLM, never mind developed a contact there.
“None of your business,” Emery replied.
Francis knew he’d get no further with Emery. He took out his phone and dialled Marta’s number again. The two men watched each other defiantly while the ringing tone from Francis’ phone echoed around the container. Eventually, Marta’s voice kicked in with a message prompt. Francis ended the call. He’d left enough messages already.
“You’re full of shit, Emery. Anything happens to Marta and it’ll be on your head.” He turned and left.
Emery was relieved Marta hadn’t answered. He had lied to Francis: He had talked to Marta that morning. He’d had to make arrangements for her rendezvous with his NSF contact. He was, however, beginning to worry. Not about her safety; it simply hadn’t occurred to him that she might be in danger. He was beginning to fear that Marta would find out he’d lied. If she did, she could report him and he’d lose his job. His spy-masters had never put him in such an awkward position before. It seemed unlikely – now that he thought about it – that this lie could be sustainable. But the NSF agent had reassured him and he’d chosen to believe what suited him. “Don’t worry,” the voice on the phone had said, “you’ll be protected. There won’t be any comebacks.”