Friday, 20 May 2016

The Virgin of the Wind Rose and the Genius of Glen Craney by Linda Root

The author is offering an e-book copy to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance of winning this amazing book, leave a comment below, or on our Facebook page. The prize draw will be held on Friday 3rd June 2016. Good luck!

 When I was a student, I wondered how a young  Mozart could have understood music well enough to write a symphony. I asked the same question about Paul Klee and the visual arts, and T. S. Eliot and poetry.  I knew the answer when it came to Coleridge.  Occasionally I encounter a contemporary historical novelist who provokes me to ask almost the identical question: How can the person whose book I am reading have acquired in a single lifespan the knowledge required to have written it?  Glen Craney is of that ilk.

When I began reading Glen Craney’s novels, I started with The Spider and the Stone. I said to myself, ‘Aha! Craney is a Scottish medievalist. But, after reviewing The Yanks are Starving, I recast Mister Craney as a 21st Century John Dos Passos--a modern writer with a journalistic flair and a 20th Century social conscience.  The next book in my To-Be-Read stack was The Virgin of the Wind Rose, and I am baffled.  If I were not a committed skeptic, I would suspect him of channeling.
 Of the Glen Craney books I have read thus far,  I found the first chapters of 'Wind Rose' to be the most challenging.  In today’s socio-political climate, I have over-dosed on blind followers of charismatic leaders with hidden agendas. By page 38, I had endured quite enough of co-protagonist Jaqueline Quartermane.  I was amazed that a writer  I consider an enlightened humanist could create her. In my past life, I had many acquaintances with federal officers, a fact which made me skeptical. Surely the Human Resources Team at Quantico had the wherewithal to filter out the nut cases.  Then, I remembered Wind Rose is a novel, not a Yucca Valley Town Council Meeting. Irrationality in fiction is excusable.  Thus, my high expectations when it comes to Mister Craney kept the pages turning. He would not have made a True Believer like Agent Quartermane --a religious zealot with an unyielding belief in a fundamentalist dogma despite mountains of evidence to the contrary--unless he had a reason.  Read on,  read on, the Muses commanded.  
By that point, Craney had introduced a deliciously mischievous male co-protagonist named Elymas to counterbalance Quartermane inane naivete. Since the character Elymas, also known as Moses Rosen, aka Boz, seemed to have the stamina to deal with  Quartermane without closing the book on her, what right had I to write her off so casually?  
When I read further, I discovered Jaq Quartermane was not the only character in the book being manipulated by a charismatic leader.  The otherwise canny character Jamaal is equally enthralled by his idol Yahya's words, “Your home is not of this world. The Awaited One asked me to bless you with these Leaves of Paradise from Yemen. He wants you to have a taste of what is soon to come.'  Just as Quartermane has a handler and a mentor, Jammal has the mysterious Yahya calling the shots for the Awaited One, The Mahdi.  Both he and Quartermane anticipated the End Days as coming soon, but from opposite sides of the Apocalypse.  Drugs are only one means of capturing the fertile minds of characters in Craney's book. Symbolism, mind-control, and an emotional appeal to God and Country are present in both the Christian and the Muslim leadership. Jaq's mentor, the televangelist, utilizes them all, but so does his Muslim counterpart.
The parallel plot:   Enter the 15th Century
Not not all of the Mind Benders in the novel live in the 21st Century. The Virgin of the Wind Rose is a novel with parallel plots. I should have anticipated as much from its curious subtitle: A Christopher Columbus Mystery Thriller. The companion plot to the one which begins with the murder of Agent Quartermain's fiance is a tale set in the late 15th century. While their misadventures are different than those of Jaqueline Quartermane and her mystery man, they deal with the same universal issues of truth,  faith, betrayal and manipulation. The suggestion that the three somewhat inept aspiring Portuguese mariners were going to have something to do with the discovery of America was enough of a tease to keep me reading,  although I had survived several of their misadventures without a sign of Christopher Columbus or the Pinta, the Nina, or the Santa Maria.  I was unable to close the book until I knew who had murdered Ms. Quartermane’s fiancĂ© Paul Merion, but I was equally curious to sort the Christopher Columbus angle.  When a fourth aspiring mariner joins the group--a Genoese named Cristobal Columbo, who meets the others while they are incarcerated, it is tempting to consider that portion of the puzzle solved, but when the most astute of the original trio, Zarco, is framed for a crime he did not commit so soon after Cristobal appears, something does not feel right.  When Zarco is executed, Cristobal is assigned to Isabella's court, where his sexual prowess equals his potential as an explorer.
The composition of Henry, the Navigator's supporters, includes a large contingent of Jewish intellectuals at a time when Portugal's near neighbor Spain was in the clutches of warrior queen Isabella and her henchman Torquemada.  But with Prince Henry's death, that all changes.
Fifteenth Century protagonist Pero, and his erstwhile companions  Dias and Zarco are being indoctrinated in cosmology, learning about navigational aids such as the compass and the wind rose, and dealing with the flatness of the earth, our less than intrepid modern heroine Jaq is being set up.  With Boz's unsolicited help, she is learning to appraise her part in the unfolding drama differently.  Too many dead bodies are showing up to make this a simple mystery involving the murder of her fiance.  She begins to question her own background, even her ethnicity. No one seems to be who she thought they were, herself included.
Without dropping spoilers onto the page, there are some aspects of Craney’s novel worthy of mention to would-be readers.  Some reviewers have compared it to the works of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.  They do share a common attribute. Their story lines convey the message that to understand what is happening in the present, one needs a healthy grasp of what has happened in the past. This is not a novel where the reader can skip over the 15th-century plotline to get to the meat of the modern murder mystery.  I tried it and it didn’t work.  While the plots seem to progress independent of one another,  that is an illusion.  
As to the similarities between Dan Brown and Craney, while both authors are extraordinary wordsmiths, I find Craney the more sophisticated storyteller. Both are excellent tour guides through a different landscape. Thanks to the introduction of a word puzzle in the early pages, and the significance of both plots to the specter of The End Times, Craney made me work harder.  Those who enjoy a challenge will favor this book over Brown's.  One caveat: Do not belabor over the diagrams and the word puzzle. They will solve themselves in time. 

 A noteworthy feature of Virgin of the Wind Rose is its somewhat tongue-in-cheek treatment of social issues, both in the 15th century and the present.  The author’s wide-range of experience and good-natured cynicism is never far beneath the storyline.  The political commentary is there, but Craney avoids hitting his reader over the head with it as if it were a blunt instrument.  As for a touch of the Supernatural, it is certainly present but brilliantly framed. It is not a device used at the end to shore up weaknesses in the plot, but an integral part of a story. Furthermore, in the best tradition of Alan Quartermaine and Lara Croft and yes, Dan Brown’s alter ego Robert Langdon, there is a code. In this case, it is the aforementioned word puzzle needing to be solved. It all meshes neatly in the end.
One trick I often use when I review a book is to refrain from writing the review too soon.  Best to let it age a bit, like Jameson’s and portered cheese. When I am ready to write the review, I try to do my first draft from memory, and I rarely read reviews written by colleagues.  Then I open the book at a random page of dialogue to see how long it takes me to identify the speaker, with one exception:  In books with parallel plots such as this one, or in reviewing time-slips, I try to spot the chronology first.  In my first test of Wind Rose, in a few seconds, I found my speaker threatening to cut another with a sword—and I knew I was probably not in the 20the century in Washington D.C. Each character has a distinctive voice.  Even when Craney speaks and sees through the eyes of the character Pero, who we discover is a linguist, he spares his reader the assault of 20th-century anachronisms.  In an area of the world famous for its antiquities, random narrative passages do not always place the setting in the proper timeline. There are just as many dark, dank corridors, secret rooms and labyrinths in Pero's adventures as there are in Ms. Quartermain's. The politicos in each era speak differently, but their motives are the same.Yet, Craney frames the segments of a complex plot in such a way that the reader is not confused.
The three young men in the expanding 15th-Century sea-faring world bring a touch of pathos to the tale missing in the contemporary narrative.  Agent Quartermain is a bit too naive and pedantic to be likable by anyone but Elymas/Boz and even he can only take so much of her.  The earlier plot is populated with colorful characters, with vignette performances from Queen Isabella and Henry the Navigator. By the same token, the present day cast has a disturbingly contemporary flavor given the current political climate. Treachery, betrayal, exploitation, and the forging of alliances based on a thirst for power and motivated by unbridled greed abound.  As for Craney's treatment of the mysterious event often referred to as The End of Days, an exchange between Boz (aka Elymas) and a minor character from Jaq Quartermane's past frames it for the reader.  When Boz promises the adventure he embarked upon with Jaq Quartermane is not over yet – her family doctor responds “Never has been over. Never will be.'  And thus, the reader is left knowing the Apocalyptic End Time will have to wait for another day and another book, and perhaps another code or word puzzle.  As for the resolution of the parallel plot, the subtitle characterizing the novel as ‘a Christopher Columbus mystery' suggests more to come on that stage as well. Readers who love a heady historical mystery full of both the archeological and the apocryphal will be waiting for the next book.

Linda Fetterly Root, May 6, 2016


Glen Craney is a screenwriter, novelist, journalist, and lawyer. He holds degrees from Hanover College, Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

As a member of the Washington, D.C. press corps, he covered national politics and the Iran-contra scandal for Congressional Quarterly magazine. His feature screenplay, Whisper the Wind, about the Navajo codetalkers of World War II, was awarded the Nicholl Fellowship prize by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences for best new screenwriting.

His debut historical novel, The Fire and the Light, received several honors, including being named Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards and a Finalist/Honorable Mention Winner by Foreword Reviews for its Book of the Year in Historical Fiction. In 2014, he was named a double BOTYA finalist by Foreword Reviews for The Spider and the Stone and The Yanks Are Starving. He is also a two-time recipient of the indieBRAG Medallion.
The Virgin of the Wind Rose is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful review, Linda!

    Glen Craney

  2. Been thinking about this book for a while now....time to win one, I guess :-)

  3. That sounds fascinating. A very good and well written review about a book I would love to read.

  4. That sounds fascinating. A very good and well written review about a book I would love to read.

  5. What a fantastic review... I hope that I win this so I can read it.. Good luck to everybody but I hope that I win

  6. What a fantastic review... I hope that I win this so I can read it.. Good luck to everybody but I hope that I win

  7. Great review looks like and interesting read

  8. A great review! This is a book I would love to own.

  9. A great review! This is a book I would love to own.