Friday, February 27, 2015

Rebecca Alexander Presents Literary Historical Horror Fiction at its Finest - The Secrets of Life and Death

Historical Note from the Author
Writing a story rooted in the past is always a balancing act between being as grounded in the evidence as we can be, and telling an engaging and believable fiction. Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley were extraordinary thinkers and travelers, and were in central Europe in the autumn of 1585. They did meet King Istvan Bathory, (at least once, in April 1585) and his niece was really Elizabeth Bathory, the infamous murderer of young girls.
After she was found guilty of multiple murders her closest servants were executed. As a noblewoman and a Bathory, she was condemned to be imprisoned at Csejte (also called Cachtice, now in Slovakia) in 1611, where she was found dead in 1614. Her body, after local protests, was removed from the crypt of the church and has never been found. Her real story is more extraordinary than I could have imagined, and as much of the historical documents were suppressed, there is room for speculation...

I don't know about you, but knowing a minimal amount of the historical people and places in a novel enhances my enjoyment. How an author takes a bit of history, especially with infamous characters, and molds it not only into a historical story, but also brings it forth into present time with such precision is so fascinating to me.  Kudos to the author for "stretching history" into a completely plausible tale of life and death...

The Secrets of Life and Death

By Rebecca Alexander

Moving back and forth from the year 1585 to the present, the historical chapters are written as if narrated by Edward Kelley who was friend and professional associate of Dr. John Dee

The main thrust of the historical portion of the novel is that Dee and Kelley are called upon to try to save Elizabeth Bathory... This story includes witches, inquisitioners and all of those early myths (or realities) of what was happening as protestants were considered enemies of the Catholic Church... Since there is a continuous link between what is happening in the past with what is in the present, I'll be sharing more of that part, which was more interesting for me, since it provides a quite different and unique alternative to other versions of vampires and other supernatural stories I've encountered...

At first, tiny details hit him. Her hand,
lying on its back, her fingers curved like
a dead crab on the beach. Her lips were
distorted by the glass into a half smile,
their lavender skin parted to show a few
gleaming teeth. The space in front of her
was covered with litter left for the train
cleaner at the end of the journey. Felix
wondered how many people had discarded
used paper cups and newspapers on her
table, walking past the slumped girl
without realizing she was dead.
A movement caught his attention
as he walked across the car park.
There was a woman standing in
rain a dozen yards from the ticket
office, looking through the railings
toward the train. She appeared to
be watching the police as they
worked, but her posture was odd
and she didn't look like a chance
spectator observing a tragedy.

Felix was often called to crime scenes when it appeared that some unusual, perhaps ritualistic crime had occurred. This time, before he even got to the scene, he noticed a woman standing in the rain watching the police as they worked. She didn't look like a chance observer, but she disappeared before he could do anything about speaking to her.

Even though he knew what to expect, looking at a dead, young girl, still was not an easy task. It took him a minute to ask about the symbols they had earlier told him about. A man lifted her T-shirt with gloved hands...

Felix flinched as her pale skin was revealed. Red marks criss-crossed her body, and for a moment he thought they were injuries. Then he realized that she had been marked with red pen.
"That's an Enochian symbol." As the shirt was lifted higher and the slack skin on her belly was revealed, more symbols appeared in two concentric circles curves. "And that one, too. I don't recognize all of them. Two circles of what look like sigils." He bent forward, to get a better look, and caught the flowery scent of clean laundry and the acrid smell of voiced urine from the body. Sadness rolled over him, and he looked at her face for a moment. So young. The surface of her eye was just touching the glass, starting to lose its gloss as it dried.
"We'll photograph them at the postmortem." Soams stepped back into the aisle, away from the actual scent. "So what are these drawings?
"Enochian symbols. They're supposed to be an alphabet given to John Dee, an Elizabethan scholar. He got them through a man named Edward Kelley, who channeled angels for him."
"Like a psychic speaking for the dead." Felix's mind was flying through memories. The arrangement of the characters in a circle seemed familiar.

Standing at the station had left a chill that Jackdaw Hammond couldn't shake. Two days later, she wondered why she was putting herself through it again. Another girl... but first, she had some business to transact...
One hand rested against the coat touching her thigh, and against her fingers she felt the outline of the dagger sewn into the lining...She crept along the side of the alley, remembering every cobble, the raised drain, tussocks of weeds. She allowed a fingertip to trail along the brickwork wall, counting steps in her head...
The Seven Magpies, George Pierce's preferred rendezvous... "Just throw me the money."
He bent over one pocket, drew something out. "You and I are two of a kind, Jackdaw." He waved the packet at her. "The money's good. Give me the stuff."
She hesitated, four grams of prepared bone dust grinding like sand in the plastic between her fingers.
"What's it going to be used for?...

Jack had gone through the ordeal herself... She had been brought to the home where she now lived, nearly dead. She was placed in a basement room which had once been a safe room for priests and had been chained inside a circle of a sigil and slowly given something made of herbs and other magical items... Now she was helping others they found on the streets, some dying naturally or from an accident, some due to drug overdose--and tried to bring them back to life. to become a revenant. 

The young girl that they had just found at the station had run away from Jack's home. They had always warned her that leaving the circle before she was ready would result in her death. Jack had run after her, trying to find her and get her back but she had climbed onto the train and was dead before the train had even left again...

Sadie looked at the shackle on her
wrist. Hot tears fell onto the dry
skin on her hands.
"Illness...what was wrong with you?"
Her voice came out cracked, like
an old woman's.
"Same as you." Jack turned to look
down from the top of the steps. "I
was dead."
Now she had found another girl, Sadie, and was going through the same struggles to help her understand. But, this time, Sadie's mother had contacted the police and a search had begun...

"These must have been awarded
during the fifteen eighties, when
Dee was in Europe...The letters
are very similar," she said, as
she passed him a hand lens. "The
spiral one looks like the one of
the back of her neck...

He turned his attention back to
the first faded scribble. Something
something...account...Secryts of
Lyfe and Death...
In the meantime, Professor Gouchard was working with the police and was working to follow through with his research and had received more of John Dee's documents from the British Museum, including a couple of medals with the face of Istvan Bathory of Poland...

Soon Felix was comparing the sigils found on the dead teenager with those documented by Dee and Kelley... But it really got interesting when Felix met Jack...and realized she was also covered with the symbols, in her car...and in her home...

What Felix had not expected was his attraction to Jack...

Even if she was cold to the touch...

I found this version of what might have been happening back in the 1500s in Translvania a kinder, gentler version. One that evolved out of the desire to help heal, even if, in doing so, it created something inhuman and, in the case of Elizabeth Bathory, a monster...

This entire package--the merge of history with the contemporary street people--was extremely well done, in my opinion. There is an almost seamless flow of information coming from centuries ago, into the world of today, illustrating how the magic of yesterday's mystics has passed down generation after generation, still with the goal to heal and protect and free individuals from an untimely death... Well done! Highly recommended for those who enjoy fiction of the supernatural realms...


I write fantasy. And crime, and historical, and even a bit of romance. The problem is, they all tend to creep into each book. I decided when I was very young that I would write stories,and spent a lot of time with sticky tape and stapler trying to work out how to make them into books. I wrote my first novel at nineteen, which was terrible, but I was learning. I finally got my first short stories published in San Francisco when I was twenty-one, but they were ‘nature-based erotica’ so I couldn’t show my family. Then real life got in the way and I was busy bringing up three small children, one of which had a life-limiting illness. I read though: fantasy, crime, historical - even a bit of romance.
Life got much harder when my 33 year old husband died unexpectedly the same year my daughter died, aged 8. For a long time I was paralysed with grief and just wrote non-fiction.
A long time afterwards, I began writing tiny fictions, fragments of stories. I started doing writing courses and that was it, I was novelling again. By the time I had written three novels I was starting an MA. I started two books, a ‘literary’ book which turned into a ghost story, and The Secrets of Life and Death. When I entered the first Mslexia novel writing competition I was thrilled to be placed as one of two runners up. An agent took me on and found the books a publisher. I hope you enjoy reading them because I loved writing them.

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