Friday, December 31, 2010

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie

Just like the first time, I read this incredible book in one day. Since the fall of Imperial Russia and the rise of the Bolsheviks played a pivotal role in my family’s history, I’ve had more than a passing interest in the last czar, Nicholas II and his family.

Robert K. Massie’s work is based on numerous reports, interviews and research into what happened the night of July 16-17, 1918, when the czar, his wife, their five children and four servants were massacred in a cellar room in Ekatrinburg.

Six months after the czar disappeared, Admiral Alexander Kolchak, “Supreme Ruler” of the White Government in Siberia ordered Nicholas Sokolov to investigate. Following eyewitness reports, he found a site where bodies had been burned. He collected a box of ‘relics’, which included small bones which clearly showed axe marks. He concluded that the czar and his entire family had been killed and the bodies completely destroyed by fire and acid. His report published in 1924 created a furor across the world, since it was widely believed that the empress and the children were still alive. Skeptics argued that it is not possible to destroy eleven bodies by fire alone, but there were no bodies.

After eight years and no sign of the empress and her children, Moscow had to do some serious back-pedaling and published a Soviet version of Sokolov’s book. Its author, Pavel M. Bykov, admitted that Empress Alexandra and her children had been murdered along with the czar. However, in this version, he gave historians vital clues to the real location of the bodies.

Massie picks up the story when the bodies are discovered in 1991. His research rises above the chaos of lies, corruption and bureaucracy of several governments for over 70 years. Massie followed the process from the removal of remains and through the exhaustive DNA testing to find the conclusion that these remains were actually Nicholas II, family (minus two) and friends. There was almost as much drama in the scientific community as there was in Imperial Russia as different researchers clamored for a chance to test the bones, back-stabbing and criticizing each other.

But the biggest mystery remained. Where were the bodies of Alexis and Anastasia? The grave discovered in 1991 only held nine bodies when there should have been eleven. Almost from the beginning, shortly after the murders were discovered, rumors sprang up that some of the family had escaped with help from their executioners. Impostors appeared everywhere but were soon exposed as frauds. One exception however was Anna Anderson. In February 1920, a woman who bore an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia was pulled from the Landwehr Canal in Berlin. After she was placed in the Dalldorf Mental Hospital, another patient declared she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia. It’s interesting that a mental patient would be believed so readily. For six decades, Anna Anderson had as many people believing she was Anastasia as she had detractors. Massie describes the long arduous process after her death and the legal battles to have a tissue sample taken from Anna during a previous surgery (Anna was cremated immediately after she died). Eighty-nine pages later, the inevitable and anti-climatic conclusion was reached. Anna Anderson was NOT Anastasia.

So if the bodies of Alexis and Anastasia were not found with the rest of their family, where are they? Massie has a plausible theory. The box of relics gathered by Sokolov at the site of the burnings contains bones from two different bodies. After Sokolov collected the relics, he offered the remains to Nicholas II’s mother, who refused since she stoutly believed that her son and his family were still alive. He then traveled to England and offered them to Nicholas’s cousin King George V, who also refused them.

Sokolov went to Brussels and the box of relics is in the safe-keeping of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. The church has absolutely refused to allow anyone to inspect the contents of the box. They are mistrustful of Communists, the KGB and anyone from the West. Massie believes the remains of Alexis and Anastasia are in this box. At some point in the future, the box may appear and we will know the complete truth of the fate of Nicholas II and his family.

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter is one of the most fascinating historical books I’ve read. As I mentioned before, I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it.

The Coiners' Quarrel by Simon Beaufort

I prefer to read a series like Simon Beaufort’s Sir Geoffrey Mappestone in chronological order, so I knew I’d be missing some action when I read The Coiners’ Quarrel, the fifth book without reading the third and fourth novels.

Fortunately, I wasn’t too far out of the loop from the events in the second novel, A Head for Poisoning, the last Beaufort work I read. Geoffrey is still in cold, damp, musty England, desperately hoping to return to the dry, hot, dusty Holy Land and the service of Tancred. His hopes are dashed when King Henry I orders him to investigate the charges of counterfeiting, fraud, and embezzlement levied on a coiner of the realm by another, and to find a large shipment of silver that was stolen.

Sir Geoffrey is furious but realizes that he has no choice. To compound his frustration, Geoffrey’s sister Joan and her husband are implicated in the case between the coiners, as being traitors to the crown. From the very beginning of the trip to Bath, attempts are made on his life. The wife of a coiner tries several times to seduce him. Two physicians constantly squabble. Everyone, it seems, including his sister Joan and his squire are hostile toward him and no one is telling him the truth. As a result, his investigation stalls.

Finally, with help from an unlikely source, the mystery begins to unravel and it comes apart at a breathtaking pace. Beaufort’s plot has twists and turns with surprises on every page and incorporates a background rich in historic detail.

One of the most interesting characters is Mappestone’s reluctant squire Durand. From the beginning of the book (and I’m sure I missed his introduction somewhere in the previous two novels), it is clear he is gay. But unlike Thomas, the gay character in Priscilla Royal’s series featuring Prioress Eleanor of Wynthrope, who struggles with his sexuality in an era where he could be put to death because of it, Durand flaunts it. He makes no secret of the fact to the point of anachronism. He’s a total queen. I’m not sure how many gay men in the early twelfth century would comment on women’s shoes, or would admit, nay brag, about dressing as a woman, even if it is to spy. Homosexuals at that time had no protection (just like today) against any type of oppression, no matter their status. But at that time, fear of execution kept many homosexuals closeted. Durand acts as if there is no specter of death. Nevertheless, Durand’s real role in the mystery is more disturbing than his sexuality.

Mappestone endures more adversity than squabbling physicians, an aloof sister, and a gay squire. Beaufort pumps up the action along with the plot tangles. It is books like The Coiners' Quarrel that keep me coming back for more.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Descent" now at loveyoudivine Alterotica

The prequel novel to the Master Mike and mutt series is now available at!
Is Todd the best slave Master Mike ever had? How far will he go in his struggle to convince Master Mike?
i heard Master get out of the car and start calling orders. The lid opened and the sudden dim light blinded me. Hands grabbed me and hauled me out of the trunk. They laid me on the ground and untied me. My arms and legs had stiffened from being restrained so i couldn't move for a few seconds. i groaned in pain as the blood returend to my extremities and i managed to rise to my feet.
eight thirty-five stood next to two more slaves, both shaved head to toe and not wearing a stitch of clothing, except for the chain collars and padlocks around their necks. i glanced around and saw we were in a large triple car garage. Where you would expect to see cars or storage shelves sat a work space with power tools, welding equipment, stacks of lumber and bundles of iron and steel bars. i caught a glimpse of cages, benches and St. Andrew's crosses in various stages of construction.
"boi todd!"
At the sound of Master's voice, my head snapped around. "Yes, sir!"
"eight thirty-five will show you where you will stay tonight." He turned and left the garage through a door into the house. The two slaves followed Him. eight thirty-five picked a flashlight from a shelf and led me through the same door and down a staircase into a basement room. he locked me into a cage with a pallet for a bed and a blanket.
"Someone will come and get you in the morning." he left me alone, turning out the flashlight.
i didn't sleep well that night because the cramped cage didn't allow me to stretch out. It was also pitch black in the room. If there were windows, they must have been covered completely to not let any light from outside. i dozed off and on for a while, and finally fell into a restless sleep only to be woken up a short time later to the sound of running feet overhead.
Daylight filtered in through a window high up on a wall, and covered with a heavy curtain. i looked around the room and saw three other naked forms in cages similar to mind. One guy was starting to come around but the other two slept on through the ruckus. Not knowing what to do, i lay still and listened to the noises coming from above to see if i could determine what was going on.
The footsteps didn't sound hurried or rushed, rather more like people determined to get things done efficiently and quickly. The door to our room opened and eight thirty-five came down the stairs. Without a word, he opened all the cages and roused the two sleeping. he showed us to a toilet where we could relieve ourselves.
"you three report to the kitchen," he said to the others. he turned to me. "you are to stay here until Master calls for you." i thought i detected a tone of condescension in his voice but tried to dimiss it from my mind as just me being self-conscious about my nakedness.
i was a little disappointed that i had to remain behind, and even more upset when eight thirty-five locked me back in my cage. Fortunately, i didn't have to wait long before another slave came to release me. i recognized him from Master's blog. A little thinner than the others, he wasn't as handsome either.
"i'm four-eleven. i'm here to take you to Master Mike." he said it with a slight smile, which was a relief from what i felt with eight thirty-five. i followed him into a large dining room. Master Mike sat at one end.