At a time when Sephardic Jews are being invited to return to a Spain from which they were expelled in the Middle Ages and when Muslims are again claiming the right to pray five times a day in what was the Great Mosque in Cordoba and is now a Christian cathedral, this ‘novela negra’ takes the reader back to where it all began… Al Andalus, the Islamic Caliphate of Cordoba, in the year 948.
While trying to control the political, religious and ethnic rivalries that threaten to pull apart the diverse population of Muslims, Christians and Jews in his kingdom, The Caliph of Cordoba, Abd al Rahman III, is also engaged in a bitter power struggle with his arch rival The Caliph of Baghdad. In order to defeat the forces of Baghdad, Abd al Rahman is trying to forge an alliance with the Jewish Khazar kingdom in the Caucasus Mountains.
When a favourite of the royal household, a Christian professor of mathematics and a chess grand master, is slaughtered like a sheep in the bath-house where he usually fleeces unsuspecting gamblers, the Caliph’s Jewish Vizier, Hasdai ben Shaprut, aided by the General of the Royal Guard, Ghalib al-Nasiri, must search for his killer in the cramped alleyways of the suqs, in the bathhouses and in the fabulous palaces of the Caliphate.
With the threat of war, the possible invasion of Baghdad and Cordoba’s alliance with the kingdom of Khazaria at stake the Vizier and the General have to find the murderer quickly.
At first suspicion falls on members of a visiting group of Sicilian seamen, all adherents of the mu-afyiah, who are known smugglers of khat and other narcotics but further murders soon show that the Vizier will have to look beyond this group to find out who is behind what seems like a plot to destabilise the Caliphate.
10th century Spain was a crucible of cultures and a sophisticated centre for the literary arts as well as the sciences of astronomy, alchemy, mathematics and medicine. It was here that much of what is still current today in music, manners and the culinary arts of Europe were established. In 948 Cordoba was a city of international trade, diplomacy, power and double-dealing.
In ‘Checkmate’ the vibrancy, colour and sensuality of mediaeval Al Andalus are evoked and described through the senses of the characters. Experience the intoxicating perfume of orange blossom mingled with the iron-tanged scent of blood. Compare the rank dungeons of the Alcazar with the soaring splendour of the marble and gold palaces of the Caliph. Listen to the clamour and chaos of the joust and contrast it with the clarion call of the golden oriole.
‘Checkmate’ is published in English in a Kindle edition by Endeavour Press, 2014.
The Spanish edition is available as ‘Final de Partida en Córdoba in both paperback and Kindle versions published by Ediciones B, Barcelona.
Ediciones B have also published the second book in the series ‘La Oración del Crepúsculo’.