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C.C. Humphreys

Orion £12.00

Reviewed by Carol Heys

The sequel to the "French Executioner" tells of the terrible conflict within the Rombaud family set against a background of religious war in Europe and hostility between two Indian tribes in Canada. The narrative is well-written, pacey and compelling and holds the reader's interest throughout. The plot is fast-moving with the action switching cleverly from Europe to Canada, where the local colour transports us into another culture-that of the Huron Indians. The tension increases and the pace quickens with the graphic descriptions of bloody battles, human misery and torture and the violent killing of animals for food.

The story centres on the plight of Anne Boleyn's six-fingered hand, stolen and buried in France for safety after her execution by Jean Rombaud.

Nineteen years later we meet Rombaud's son Gianni, who has left home because of his religious fanaticism to kill heathens for the Inquisition in Rome. We see him in Chapter Two mercilessly pursuing and killing an old Jewish man and any others in his way. He despises his father's lack of religious zeal and readily agrees to the task of retrieving the hand for the Pope-to-be, Cardinal Carafa. The latter intends to use the hand for political gain but Gianni sees it as an opportunity to purge the guilt of his family and will do it for the glory of his faith. Father and son race towards France, encountering many difficulties along the way and they believe that only three people know the exact place where the hand was buried. Removed from its grave at the sacred crossroads, the hand is taken to the Tower of London, brought back to France and then finds its way across the seas to Canada.

The hand is a symbol of Anne Boleyn's witchery and also a powerful political tool-it is used to blackmail Princess Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's own daughter, threatens the future religious bias of England and therefore the political balance in Europe. Anne Rombaud is the character present throughout the narrative in Siena, Paris, London and Canada. In a vision she has forseen the danger the hand could bring about if left unburied and so she personally takes on the task of bringing it to a final, safe resting place. At one point she even has the hand secreted about her person. She seems to have inherited the magical powers of her namesake, has extra-sensory perception and extraordinary powers of healing and premonition. She has more lives than a cat and escapes death on so many occasions, when all seems lost.

This historical tale is an action-packed adventure with lots of violence, gory fights and loss of human life but there are love stories woven into the plot to give further interest. It is an excellent and very fast paced read that kept me whistling through the pages long into the night.