The angry wannabe queen

THE RED QUEEN
BY PHILIPPA GREGORY
Simon & Schuster, £18.99

MEGA-novelist and Tudor historian Gregory returns to her new series, The Cousins’ War, with an instantly, electrically gripping story about Margaret Beaufort. Who? Indeed. Beaufort, the grandmother of Henry VIII, was merely a shadowy character on the edge of The White Queen, Gregory’s previous book about Elizabeth Woodville, matriarch of the House of York. But here she takes centre stage as the heiress to the red rose of Lancaster. We meet her as a child – a deeply devout, grandiose nine-year-old who wishes she could be like Joan of Arc and believes angels talk to her.


The Red Queen begins when mad King Henry VI marries the child Margaret to his half-brother Edmund Tudor, twice her age. Their son is born just as the wars are starting, and Beaufort vows that he will become king. She never surrenders her belief that her House is the true ruler of England and that she has a great destiny before her.

There’s plenty to pity about Margaret Beaufort. She’s born without much love from her mother or her (quickly dead) father, penalised for being a girl. She’s repeatedly raped by Edmund Tudor in order to produce an heir: once she does, the birth is so butchered by midwives that she becomes infertile.

But make no mistake, Gregory paints an egotistic, jealous and unscrupulous person. Unlike Woodville, who spares barely a thought for the homely Margaret, Beaufort is completely obsessed with the beautiful head of her rival household, whom she believes has taken her place as the rightful queen.

As usual, Gregory has gone against the grain. She’s put a nasty character at the centre of her work, but it doesn’t mean the book is too sour to digest. On the contrary, it’s a riproaring induction to the period for those who may not have considered themselves interested in late Medieval history, and a must-read for anyone else.

TIGERLILY’S ORCHIDS
BY RUTH RENDELL
Hutchinson, £18.99

RUTH Rendell is the grande dame of mannered, urban mystery, homing in on precise segments of London and excavating the sinister secrets and motives lurking below the surface. Over the years she has manoeuvred her way through death among the bohemian middle classes of Holland Park in its hippy days, and violence in post-property boom red brick terraces, skewering the mannerisms and fads of the capital at the turn of this century and beyond.

Now she brings us a tale of sordid murder in a suburban block of flats – a whodunit among neighbours. Stuart Font, a rakishly handsome but naïve young professional, decides to throw a housewarming party and invite the whole block. And what odd ducks they are: the 60-year-old Olwen, merrily drinking herself to death in a virtually unfurnished flat, the young doctor with a disastrous career, the vile caretaker and his wife. The one person he doesn’t invite is his girlfriend, as she might invite her husband. Needless to say, the party doesn’t go as planned, thanks to a murder – and the guests’ lives will never be the same again.

Living across the road is a beautiful Asian woman with bruises all over her, christened Tigerlily by Stuart. As if supernatural, she emerges to cast a malevolent spell over the cast of characters. After the murder, Tigerlily becomes entwined with Stuart’s cold-hearted girlfriend and the other inhabitants of Lichfield House.

As ever with Rendell, there are multiple mysteries here, the stories of myriad displaced souls are all interwoven, from a young woman drawn into petty crime, to the curious activities of the Asian characters. What emerges is a beautifully constructed answer to the murder mystery.

The scope of this book is huge, but under Rendell’s control, it’s also razor sharp and acutely spine-chilling. It’s not quite perfect – she’s done this for so long you get the sense that sometimes she’s writing from an older place, with the result that the book can feel a bit dated. All in all, though, you’re in for a treat.

SHADOWPLAY
by KAREN CAmPBELL
Hodder, £18.99

THIS gutsy new book from star-to-be Karen Campbell is set right in Campbell’s own stomping ground of Glasgow.

An ex-policewoman herself, Campbell’s well-drawn star is Anna Cameron, recently promoted to Chief Inspector in the Glasgow police. Her new boss is a woman, but rather than this making Cameron’s life easier in a traditionally misogynistic force, she’s wound up with the fearsome JC Hamilton.

Still, she’s determined to be a brave and above all, a good cop. But suddenly, everything turns topsy turvy when her mother goes into a coma in a foreign country and an old woman disappears from a Glasgow care-home in deeply suspicious circumstances.

The screws only tighten further on Anna with the gang-related murder of a young Asian boy and an assault on one of her officers. All at once, her personal and professional lives threaten to implode. Can Anna be both a good cop and a good person? It’s high time we had a good, gritty British crime novel by a woman – and here it is.