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The apartment was seven rooms, much bigger than Annie needed. But it was a four-minute walk to the British Museum, where she would be working frequently, and in the heart of Holborn, the London district that was the focus of much of her research. Not to mention the appeal of high ceilings and fireplaces and tall windows that overlooked busy Southampton Row, where double-decker buses went north and south to places called Chalk Farm and Covent Garden.
“I suggest,” Mrs. Walton said, “you have a wander on your own. You must have been too jet-lagged to see it properly yesterday.”
In her sixties, Annie thought. Fair, still pretty—no doubt an English rose in her day. Possibly a family resemblance to her niece, Sheila MacPherson, secretary to the director of the Shalom Foundation, the organization that had sent Annie Kendall to England. My Auntie Bea’s off to Singapore to visit her son, Dr. Kendall, just when you arrive, as it happens. I know she’d love to let her flat and have that bit of extra income, as long as she was sure the tenant would look after her things.
There was a certified check drawn on Shalom’s account in the bag slung over Annie’s shoulder. She was here to sign the furnishings inventory, hand over the payment, collect the receipt, and pick up the keys. Mrs. Walton was leaving early the next morning, Tuesday, the first of May. It was agreed Annie could move in as soon after as she liked.
“Go on.” Her soon-to-be landlady pressed into Annie’s hand the list of the contents of each room. “Take this with you and have a look round without me peering over your shoulder.”
“Well, if you don’t mind . . .”
“I do not. Off you go. I’ll be in my office if you have any questions.” According to her niece, Bea Walton managed property for absentee owners. Her office was at the far end of the apartment and could be reached by a separate door from the outside corridor—lofty ceiling, broad stairs, and a creaking old elevator—or from what she referred to as the drawing room. Imagine, Annie Kendall from Brooklyn living in a place with a drawing room. Not that there was anything particularly grand about the flat. Shabby chic, more like, with an air of things having been in place for many years. Settled. Sturdy. Comfortable. In other words, perfect. She took the papers from the onetime English rose and turned left, starting down the long hall that formed the apartment’s spine.
Old sketches and drawings lined the walls, along with two nineteenth-century gilt-framed mirrors that reflected wavy, mercurous images. A mahogany half-moon table held a vase of vivid yellow tulips; another, a few feet farther along, a lighted lamp. Each formed a small oasis of brightness in the dim passage. Annie’s trained eye—she was an architectural historian—made it fifty-two feet, give or take six inches. Except for a big old-fashioned bathroom, all the rooms opened off the Southampton Row side. The first door led to Mrs. Walton’s bedroom. Annie peeked inside. Two suitcases were open on the bed, and an ironing board had been set up in front of a small TV.
Next came the second bedroom, the one that would be hers. The day before—fresh off the plane from New York—she’d registered little other than a remarkable black and white mural made up of tiny overlapping pen and ink scenes of London, a helter-skelter riot that covered one entire wall. “Painted by a man named Stephen Fox,” Mrs. Walton said. “He lived here alone until he died. Got run over in one of London’s last pea-souper fogs, poor thing. I know his art is a bit odd, but we liked it, so we always decorated around it.” Annie liked it too, but the amount of detail was dizzying, like a Where’s Waldo? illustration.
She turned her back on the mural and looked at the rest of the bedroom. There was a bed covered in an old-fashioned crewelwork spread, a night table, a chest of drawers, an armoire, and a chair. Everything was pleasant and comfortable and inviting. Soothing enough, she decided, so she should be able to sleep despite facing the frenzied mural. She stepped back into the hall, closing the door firmly behind her.
A small dining room came next, and off it, a recently modernized kitchen. The apartment’s long passage then made a sharply angled left turn and extended another eight or so feet to a small bedroom that had probably originally been intended as a maid’s room.
She really must still be jet-lagged. She’d been wandering and gawking, trying to imagine herself living in these spaces, and forgotten she was meant to be checking the inventory. She’d have to do a second pass.
Annie opened the door to the small back bedroom. Double bed, six-drawer chest, desk, two lamps, and assorted books and decorative objects, according to the list.
She was looking at none of that.
“Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.” A monk intoned the words while bent over in profound reverence. “Sicut erat in principio,” he chanted as he stood upright and looked, not at the book in his hands, but at the crucifix on the wall in front of him. “Et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.” Bright sun shone through the window at his side, illuminating him in a broad shaft of light. His habit was pure white; everything around him neutral. The only contrast was the ruff of dark hair that circled his shaved head in the ancient cut known as tonsure.
The monk closed the book and swung around to face her. He smiled.
Annie slammed the door.
She turned, instinctively searching for a witness. The short length of hall was empty. She walked to the corner and looked down the long corridor all the way to the drawing room, or living room, or whatever it was to be called. Nothing. No one. The only sound was a radio playing softly, apparently from Bea Walton’s office at the flat’s far end.
Annie turned, walked back to the little bedroom, and pressed her ear against the door. Total silence. She reached for the doorknob.
Double bed, six-drawer chest, desk, two lamps, and assorted books and decorative objects—precisely as promised. Small, but two windows, so nice cross ventilation. The light they afforded was dim. It was late afternoon, cloudy, threatening rain, as it had been when she arrived. No sunlight.
And no monk.
For a fleeting moment, she considered backing out of everything. The job, the apartment. The whole deal.
Absurd. This assignment was—at least for her—the chance of a lifetime. Besides, she didn’t believe in ghosts.
Mrs. Walton took the check. Both women signed the inventory and the rental agreement. The keys to number eight Bristol House changed hands. As of the next day, the flat was Annie’s for three months.
The Two Princes Hotel on Gower Street was a stone’s throw from Bristol House on Southampton Row. It boasted charming and tasteful rooms designed to appeal to the sort of tourists who wanted to be close to nearby London University or the British Museum. In New York, looking at the pictures on the hotel’s Web site, Annie had thought the rooms likely to be claustrophobically small, but it hadn’t seemed to matter, since she was only going to be there for two nights. Now, given that her two large bags took up much of the tiny amount of floor space, there was no room to dispel her nervous energy by pacing. She stood instead in the narrow gap between the bed and her luggage, hearing still the ancient Latin words, and her heart seemed to be beating in time to rhythms she’d first heard kneeling beside her father in some monastery he’d taken his family to visit.
Such excursions were a feature of her childhood. John Kendall had been a noted scholar of church history. Maybe that’s why Annie’s academic specialty became late Renaissance England, specifically the vernacular buildings of London in the time of the Tudors. Her doctoral dissertation had been titled The Effect of Protestant Iconoclasm on Sacred Doorway Decoration in Tudor England, 15371559. It was an investigation of the almost-instant disappearance of crucifixes and pictures of saints and the Virgin Mary from outside private houses after Henry VIII broke with Rome. The examining committee had accepted her work with “special commendation.”
Gloria Patri, et Filio . . .
She remembered pressing her face against the scratchy tweed of her father’s jacket, and the way he always smelled of tobacco. And she was quite sure he was the first person ever to put a pencil in her hand. “Draw something, Annie. Draw whatever you see.”
She unzipped the outside pocket of one of the cases, withdrew a pad of paper and a pencil, and began to sketch. As a historian of architecture rather than a practitioner, Annie didn’t require meticulous draftsman’s skills. Her talent was for quick sketches, workmanlike and accurate. They conveyed the whole picture, mood rather than infinite detail of cornices and lintels. And as so often happened, once she began to draw, she remembered more than she recalled having observed.
In quick, sure strokes, a world took shape on the page—three views of the white-robed monk bathed in sunshine. In the first, he bowed before the crucifix; in the second, she drew what she’d seen after he stood up. His back was to her in both of those. The third sketch was her last sight of him, the most unsettling, the one where he turned to face her and beamed a smile of welcome. The background was the same in all three, a room simple to the point of austerity. A prie-dieu—one of those individual kneelers frequently seen in churches—stood beneath the crucifix. To the monk’s left was a small stool, beside a table holding an open book, as if he’d been studying before he broke off to say his prayers. His cowl, the hood typical of so many monastic habits, was thrown back, and he was bare-headed.
Then, in another series of quick sketches on a separate page, where once more her pencil seemed to know more than she did, Annie caught his features. In profile first, so the shaved top of his head, the tonsure, showed. Another, straight on. Thin face, high chiseled cheekbones, the nose maybe a bit too large. Definitely good-looking, but kept from being too much the pretty boy by a strong chin with a sharp cleft.
She finished the last drawing and flipped through all of them, trying to see what exactly she had created. Pictures of a monk who appeared, then disappeared, in a place that did not look in the least like where she’d seen him.
She shivered. The commonsense explanation, that she’d imagined the entire episode, that her mind manufactured the details in her drawings, was terrifying.
Annie put down the pencil and returned the sketchbook to the suitcase. Four hours later—when according to her internal clock it was eight p.m., though it was one in the morning London time—she got up, dug out the sketchbook, and put the date and time on each drawing.
Posted April 8, 2013
Annie Kendall’s academic historian career has been at a standstill for ten years when she’s offered the chance of a lifetime, or so she sees it. She is hired by Weinraub, the head of the Shalom Foundation, to travel to London and find secret treasures hidden by Giacomo the Lombard, also known as the Jew of Holbern. These treasures are connected to the ancient Second Temple of Jerusalem. But there’s a heaviness and threatening attitude from Weinraub that bothers Annie but not enough initially to stop her from taking the job. She’ll have free room and board and she has three months to complete what is really an impossible task. So it begins!
The first unsettling aspect of this job is that after her landlady leaves Annie begins hearing chanting and visually senses the presence of a monk in her temporary home. She has this uncanny ability to sit down immediately after seeing something and drawing it precisely as if it were a posing model. So imagine her shock when she meets a researcher and TV personality, Geoff Harris, who is writing a book about what he believes to be a looming disaster that will occur in Israel; Geoff looks exactly like the monk haunting her home. Their relationship forms slowly; Annie is a recovering alcoholic and so doesn’t expect anyone to believe her actual experience of her haunted dwelling. But Geoff is a fine judge of truthful or sham characters and comes to believe that Annie is conveying reality, including later scenes of hearing music, seeing things written on the misty bathroom mirror and much, much more.
Somehow Annie and Geoff, along with Geoff’s dying mother and another Rabbi, come to see that the Jew of Holbern’s hidden treasures are linked to the Catholic Church and a secret sect known as the True Obedience of Avignon, tracing back to the time of a terrible schism in the Church about who was the “real” Pope. Are these relics connected with Judaism or Christianity? What seems to be pointing to the Middle East leads them on a long journey of finding clues accompanied by the actual account told by the Jew of Holbern and the monk of Avignon who are connected in ways the reader could never imagine!
Bristol House… is a terrific mystery, thriller, fantasy and/or work of historical fiction. If you love a complicated puzzle or a great mystery, this is the book for you. The clues move along slowly but then the pace picks up and the reader has to pay careful attention to piece it all together as the tension grows and grows. If you love historical fiction, this is a book that suggests how fanaticism regarding history can become so delusional that it poses a dire threat to the present on a global scale. All in all, a fine novel that deserves much attention, rave reviews, and best seller status! This reader hated for the story to end – I want to know more about Annie and Geoff and what adventures their future holds! Congratulations Beverly Swerling!
5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 9, 2013
It would be nice if we could read the reviews from customers without their writing about the entire book. Please be brief and don't ruin it for everyone. I have not read the book, but according to B&N, I have to give it a rating, so this isn't an accurate rating, just a means of letting customers know we do not appreciate their revelations.
4 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 22, 2013
What do you do when somebody hires you without telling you REALLY what the job is? That's what Dr. Annie Kendall finds out as she unlocks a puzzle that stretches back far into the past, and could affect the future. A great puzzle and a great read
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Posted September 14, 2013
Posted June 19, 2013
The publisher's blurb for Beverly Swerling's new novel, Bristol House talked about the blending of historical fiction with a supernatural thriller in a "dual period narrative". For that reason alone, I would have read it. Then it mentioned that the historical part was set in Tudor England, a period of history that I am particularly fond of. At that point I was hooked.
Annie Kendall is a historical researcher who accepts a job to travel to London to verify the existence of a Jewish community in London during the reign of Henry VIII, a time when Jews were still forbidden to live in England. In particular, her wealthy patron is looking for information regarding a specific inhabitant of the community, know as the Jew of Holborn. It seems like perfect job to get her career back on track, but is it really?
Rather than one story, there were really four separate stories being told simultaneously in this book. Each one was interesting in it's own right, but the author also did a marvelous job of seamlessly weaving them together into one cohesive main story. Although I enjoyed the modern day story of Annie and Geoff Harris, it was the stories of the Jew of Holborn, Dom Justin, and Maggie Harris, Geoff's mother, that I enjoyed the most. It was definitely the historical bent of these stories that drew me to them. I found myself wanting to further research the possibility of a forbidden Jewish colony in Tudor England, and to further investigate the existence of the Kindertransports that Maggie was a product of. I am always excited when a historical story presents new material that I can further research. In contrast, the story of Annie and Geoff was a more contemporary romance sort of story, and, while well done, took second place in my mind.
The use of the historical characters to actually tell their own stories and present the historical perspective of the book was a brilliant move on the author's part. Giving the historical characters their own voice allowed me to connect with them in a more intimate way. This connection lent more realism to these stories, in my opinion. I really enjoyed hearing about the Tudor times from Dom Justin and The Jew of Holborn, much more than having someone else talk about them, and wish that more of Maggie's story was included in the book. Dom Justin, in particular, was an interesting character, although as a ghost, he was neither scary nor "haunting" as the publisher's blurb stated. In fact, this is the only place in the book that fell short in my opinion. I understood and enjoyed the author's use of the ghost as a story telling device, but I did not feel that the supernatural part of the story would have worked on it's own.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Since it was the first book that I have read by this author, I researched her other work and was excited to see that she has written a series of books about New York that begins in the Pilgrim times and follows it's development through the years. I will definitely be adding this series of books to my reading list. I hope she does as good of a job with them as she has with Bristol House. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery story with a historical backdrop. I am giving it 4 stars.. Thanks to Viking and Netgalley for making this book available for me to read in exchange for my review.
Posted May 29, 2013
Prepare to be fascinated when you read this historical thriller toggling back and forth in time from present day England to the 16th century Tudor period. Some authors are content to continue on a path they know to be successful. Historical fiction novelist Beverly Swerling has taken a different tack by presenting Bristol House, successfully intertwining history, romance, the supernatural, and mysteries of religious relics.
Present day. Architectural historian Annie Kendall begins a three month research project in London to locate long missing artifacts for Shalom Foundation. Her assignment—“Find the Jew of Holborn.” If she can do that, she will discover the secrets and locations for specific ancient artifacts brought back to Europe from the Holy Land by the Knights Templar and find the connection between present and past. More so, successfully completing this assignment would give her back a sense of self worth and credibility in her professional life lost long ago before she walked into an AA meeting. Days after she moves into Bristol House for the three-month assignment, she meets Geoffrey Harris, dead ringer for the ghost she just met the afternoon before in the back room of the house.
1535. King Henry VIII is executing Carthusian monks from the London Charterhouse who oppose him replacing the pope as head of the church. Thomas Cromwell plays his intrigue with power. The Jew of Holborn distributes his relics. How is the monk whose ghost Annie saw connected to the Jew? If he continues his story, will he be able to save her from danger?
Swerling writes convincingly of the Tudor Period. She transports us to an enigmatic and treacherous world complete with codes to be broken, a mysterious mural with a secret, and back stories of the 16th century characters. The complex plot has many twists and turns. Readers must concentrate, but are given a huge pay-off at the end when the story coalesces into a mesmerizing journey through dark and mysterious corridors. Some sexual and gritty scenes pop up. The old style font used for the 16th century chapters is quite pleasing as are the maps of old London and Bristol House.
If you are looking for a light beach read, save Bristol House for another day. If you love history, intrigue and the supernatural, embrace this book as a history-stocked fascinating journey.
Posted May 3, 2013
This book begins as Annie Kendall, a historian, working for the Shalom Foundation, arrives in London to begin her research. She has been hired to look up and defend the facts behind treasures that are said to connect to the ancient Second Temple of Jerusalem, treasures that were hidden during the reign of King Henry VIII by a person who called himself the Jew of Holbern. This is going to prove, according to Annie, that she is back in business again. Annie is doing this assignment for personal reasons as she is a recovering alcoholic and is trying to rebuild her career by finding proof of the existence of the Jew of Holborn and thus proving her renewed ability to work.
The fun begins as Annie investigates her newly-rented apartment at Bristol House. When she opens a door into a small room in her apartment and discovers a Monk praying with morning light streaming in the window and she knows that it is not morning, but afternoon, she immediately knows something is up. She thinks that she is hallucinating and slams the door on him, opening it again in a few minutes to find that there is no Monk. The following day Annie meets Geoffrey Harris, a TV investigative journalist who is the spitting image of the Monk who she saw in her apartment. When Annie and Geoff meet it’s on Geoff’s terms as he is on a story to reveal that the motive behind the Shalom Foundation, funded by Phillip Weinraub, an American billionaire, is not on the up and up.
The story hops back and forth from the 21st century to the 16th century, and while some stories that jump between time periods tend to be difficult to follow, Bristol House is very understandable. There is so much history in Tudor England and there have been many books written about that period, but this one is definitely a bit different. The disappearing Monk keeps coming back to try and tell Annie which directions to take regarding her work and Geoff and Annie start to kindle a little romance as they find they are on the same side. For readers interested in Tudor history involving the politics and religious angles, it’s a real find as the author has researched this story very carefully. All events in the story, along with Bristol House itself are written to make the reader feel as if they are in the midst of all the happenings as the story shifts back and forth in time.
Quill says: Readers will have to pay close attention to remember it all as the author presents a saga that will keep your interest for many hours of good reading.
Posted April 30, 2013
The book reminded me of a treasure hunt. Many twists and turns that you could not see coming. Reminded me somewhat
of the feeling I got reading the Da Vinci Code. All the pieces needed to fit together
Posted April 29, 2013
Posted June 15, 2013
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Posted June 23, 2013
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