Wednesday, 19 April 2017

!Aly - by Peter Cane: reviewed by Diana Milne

The author is generously donating  paper copy of this book as a prize in the draw. To enter, please leave a comment on the blog itself, or in the comments section below in either the Review or the Review Blog.
It is worth having!

The opening pages of !Aly are compelling, dragging the reader in, almost against their will, with an air of mystery and promise and slight but tangible menace that thrills the soul and makes one want to know more, but with the warning that once read this can never be unread...
Taking a little known and never before written about character depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, first time author Peter Cane weaves a spell binding story around this Moorish slave figure,     revealing not only who his father is, but his owner and combining all the well known artists and personages of the era in a gripping multi layered story that will leave fans of the Da Vinci Code hanging on to every word.
In a friendly and confiding monologue style, reminiscent of Moshin Hamid at his best, Cane explores the personal lives and relationships of   more known names than are in Brett’s Peerage, showing how they interweave and shapeshift to suit their purposes.
Meticulously researched, the book takes us travelling and much of the action is set on the benighted island of Hispaniola, where the inhabitants were exterminated by explorers who are also deeply involved and entwined in the saga. Not only is the plot multi layered and complex, but the characters are also multilayered and no one is who they really seem to be.  It is the story of an enigma in a conundrum wrapped up in a puzzle! In addition the book can be read on many levels, each reader finding his or her own truth and story within its pages.
Fleeing from a heinous act, perpetrated to save his young cousin from rape, the protagonist Aly escapes to the afore mentioned Hispaniola and whilst on board ship he muses on the duality of good versus evil, a theme that recurs throughout the tome, at one point ‘proving’ that all evil can be justified by the Bible. The reader is aware that Aly’s status is that of a slave, but as he has previously hinted that his father is a very famous artist, the exact nature of his standing is ambiguous. We glean that names to these people (as yet mostly unidentified) are not used as identifiers but as tools to further their cause, an unusual stance that becomes clearer as the book progresses.
Written in beautiful language with the assured confidence of a writer of many years standing, it is a surprise to find that this is Peter Cane’s first book. He masterfully displays his knowledge of the Bible and Biblical religion, Mythology, history, art and artists and the execution of art works, languages, geography and even touches on Leonardo’s philosophy of painting, without ever the reader feeling they are being lectured to. We are treated to a look at Erasmus’ satire about Pope Julius and a fascinating look at his life and then, interspersed with the more learned elements, we have a poetically beautiful description of nature, slotted in with the ease of a good wordsmith.
This novel is a tour de force that needs to be read.
You may read Peter Merlin Cane's  blog here.
You may buy the book here Aly

About the concept behind the book and a short (ish) biography of Peter Cane
In 2012 something quite unexpected, and not entirely welcome, fell in my lap. I had long been intrigued by why we feel what we feel when we look at art, and I even participated in the birth of a new field of study – that of Bioaesthetics. It’s about our innate sensory triggers, triggers which when activated create emotions and urges… drives such as fear, and the need to take a step back - or the compulsion to reach out and fondle… or that simply make us stop in our tracks, freeze, hold our breaths and stare in astonishment - tension triggers, that is.​While trying to figure out how these work, I was seeking flexed curves, taut coils and tight twists, in particular in Michelangelo’s sculptures - or trying to, but being a bit inept in my choice of Google words, all I got was images of his ‘Creation of Adam’, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Try as I might, God insisted in reaching out to spark Adam into life. And then the penny dropped – that pregnant gap between the two soaring fingers was just what I was looking for... it was the focal point of the entire ceiling, and maybe the most famous and most effective tension trigger in the history of Art.

And then everything went pear-shaped. I saw something else in the sky that most certainly should not have been there. Having done a fair amount of research into camouflage, I began to suspect that Michelangelo had hidden it there to get his own back on the patron who had forced him to paint his ceiling, His Holiness the Pope. So I did the standard digital enhancement one does when trying to crack that sort of disguise, and sure enough (although I rarely admit to this part of the story now), I was faced with what seemed to be… well, I can’t repeat politely what it was, enough to say it was floating in the clouds behind Adam’s hand.

Somewhat nonplussed, I did the same enhancement on that celebrated space between the two fingers, and to my amazement, there slowly emerged a string of letters. They spelt the word ‘chiave’, Italian for ‘key’. And it was indeed the key, the key to the utterly unimaginable, and shockingly true meaning of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. And that, and the far larger and even more devastating secret that then emerged, is what gave rise to my discovery of Aly.

But you wanted to know about me… well, just turned 70, a figure that I believe only when – despite all my efforts – I catch sight of myself in the mirror. Buried beneath the wrinkles, and beyond the wish to leave this world a better place, though, is a 20 year-old, determined to live life to the full, travel (and think) broadly, and be part of everything new and exciting. So - until a few years ago I lived on the Tropic of Capricorn, where I used to bump into porcupines and opossums when walking the Beagle or the Husky late at night; I would listen to cicadas; sigh and foment sedition when my children were told in school that a European 'discovered' Brazil; got told off by my wonderful partner for not wearing my hearing aid at the dinner table; and ate far too much chocolate. Now I live in Canada, and still walk the dogs, but stay away from the path by the stream at night where the skunks hang out. And the beavers - if those teeth could fell a tree, I'm keeping my distance from them too.


And the name? Peter Cane is a nom-de-plume, alas, but an illustrious one. I named myself after a little dog in one of Jan van Eyck’s paintings, one who heard everything that went on… loved everyone who was kind to him… and knew everybody’s secrets!

This review has been written by Diana Milne © April 2017
More on the subject was written by Jeff de Cuisine in this blog about Anne of Cleeves.


  1. Intriguing review Diana, of a mysteriously enticing tale! Count me in the draw!

  2. This is a book that I most definitely must read... Wonderful review, Diana...

  3. I'd love to read this book as I'm a huge Michaelangelo fan. Include me in the draw, please.