Sunday, December 30, 2012

To Know Evil - Happy New Year

In To Know Evil, my historical mystery that has just recently been published on Kindle, the climax of the story takes place on New Years Eve in the Monastery of St. Benedict in Northern Italy in the year AD 999.

When I originally wrote the story, the scene took place soon after Christmas on December 31. On researching the Middle Ages, I found out, much to my dismay, that Europe celebrated New Years on 25 March. This little miscalculation actually extended my story almost three months. I probably could have worked around it somehow, but chose to have the climax on 25 March. I didn't want anyone pointing out I got New Years wrong.

It is believed that Julius Caesar, the celebrated Roman emperor, first proposed the idea of having January 1 as the first day of the year way back in 46 BCE. This is because the month of January has been named after the Roman God Janus. Janus is personified as a two-faced person, one face facing the front and the other facing the back, and he is believed to be the God of doors and Gates. This, to Caesar, symbolized transition from one year to the other. The then Roman celebration of the New Year was flooded with blood and drunkenness.
Later, with the rise in Christianity, the New Year was associated with the incarnation of God’s son, Christ. As such, March 25, Annunciation Day or Lady Day, was considered as the beginning of New Year. This is the day when Mary was informed by the Angel Gabriel that she would bear God’s son Jesus.

When William the Conqueror (also known as “William the Bastard”, “William of Normandy”) took over the reins of England, he ordered January 1 to be established as the New Year to collaborate it with his coronation and with circumcision of Jesus (on the eight day from His birth on December 25). However, this was abandoned by people later as they joined the rest of the Christian world to celebrate New Year on March 25.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII (also known as did away with the Julian calendar for good and established the modern day Gregorian calendar where January 1 was re-established as the beginning of a New Year.
Today however, January 1 is internationally accepted as the beginning of New Year although many parts of the world have their separate New Year celebrations in different times of the year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

To Know Evil - Foreward

I sometimes wonder how important Forewards are to novels. Why do some authors put them in? Are Forewards simply used to set-up the story? Do these stories actually need to be set-up? Can't the story simply be told without the Foreward? I often thought of these questions when I wrote To Know Evil.

Forewards sometimes remind me of Chorus in Shakepeare's Henry V, or Rumour in Henry IV, Part Two. Certainly Shakespeare did not use these devices in all his work, not even the majority of his work; so why did he here? Hopefully he did not think his audience was so dense that they had to be told they were going to use their imaginary forces to see horses Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth? It seems that Shakespeare did not have to tell his audiences that they were going to have to imagine Rome, or Scotland or Denmark, or that they would be transported back hundreds of years.

I had considered not having a Foreward in To Know Evil, as I had seldom ever used them in my other  works. But I left it in figuring some readers would do what I have been known to do from time to time when confronted with a Foreward; just skip over it and get right to the story.

Since To Know Evil was recently published on Kindle, I thought I would put some of the book on my blog and I thought I would start with the:


In northern Italy sits a small unassuming coastal town on the Ligurian Sea. Surrounding the town are low-lying hills that stand like silent sentinels, with heads bowed and hands folded in front of them in what would appear to be an almost pious posture. Leading northeast out of the town is an old dirt road that meanders into the hills. The road wanders almost aimlessly for sixty-six kilometres into the rugged countryside and comes to a sudden end at a river that flows past the base of a small mountain. The top of the mountain presents an excellent view of the entire area. Sitting atop the mountain is a partial wall of cut stone, rising above a mound of similar cut stone that has long since fallen into ruin. Aside from this account that follows, it is all that remains of a terrible tragedy brought on by an unspeakable evil.
The ruins date back to the second century B.C., and the Punic Wars. After Hannibal led his army in an unprecedented move over the Alps and invaded Rome from the north, the Roman Emperor commanded legionaries specially trained in engineering to erect a series of small outposts to help warn against any future invasion.
One such outpost was built atop a low mountain, referred to in ancient Etruscan legend as Serpent’s Mountain. The Romans knew little of the Etruscans and paid little heed to the reference, since no snakes were ever seen in the area, but those who knew the folklore about the site did not take the strange tales lightly. Stories of human sacrifice, sexual perversions, demon worship, and heinous tortures kept all but the very foolish—and the Romans—from treading in the shadow of the mountain.

Although the post witnessed Julius Caesar’s troops as they passed it on their way to invade Gaul, this particular station experienced only minimal contact with the outside in two hundred fifty years. Indeed, assignment to this remote station was tantamount to being exiled into obscurity. A soldier sent there could consider his military career at an end. In the second century A.D., something strange overcame the men stationed at the outpost. In what can only be termed mass madness, the soldiers killed one another. This obscure fact has not made it into any history book, though the few who learned of it attempted, in vain, to explain the unusual event. Whether the madness was brought on by isolation or loneliness none could say, for there were no survivors to tell the tale.
It was not until the coming of the barbarians, more than three hundred years after this mysterious tragedy, that the distant outpost was used again, yet no army would dally there for long. Sometime before the fall of the Roman Empire, the station was found abandoned and claimed by an obscure order of Christian monks known as Gnostics. Over a period of two hundred years the Gnostic monks built an elaborate stone monastery atop the original outpost. These monks were renowned for their skills in masonry and carpentry, and other arts that are little known today. The monastery itself was a combination of Roman, Byzantine, and Gothic architecture. Its shape was basically square, with different buildings joined together, surrounding a spacious courtyard. The structure displayed an elegant simplicity, and was supported by tall columns and arches. In its day it could easily have been considered an architectural marvel. 
It is worth noting that during the barbarian invasion in the third, fourth and fifth centuries, there is no record of the monastery ever being attacked by hostile forces. The Gnostic monks received few visitors from the secular world and were most particular about whom they allowed into their sect. It was this very particularity that condemned them to extinction. By the time the Benedictines discovered the monastery in the year 580, only one Gnostic remained, a Brother Alamar, who claimed to be 114 years old.
The Benedictine order was founded early in the sixth century by Benedict of Nursia, who established many monasteries in Italy, including the one at Monte Cassino. Benedict believed in a purposeful and ordered life, balanced by equal portions of prayer, work, and sleep. To guide monks in their search for salvation, Benedict penned a monastic legislative code. Known simply as the Rule, it spelled out in great detail the practices monks were to follow so they might earn a place in Christ’s kingdom.
What follows is the story of what took place in that Benedictine monastery in the year 999 A.D., the incredible secrets buried there, and the terrible tragedy that brought an end to that fellowship of brothers.

To Know Evil on Kindle

To Know Evil on Youtube

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

To Know Evil - Now on Kindle!

I am very happy to announce my historical mystery, To Know Evil has just been published on Kindle.

To Know Evil on Amazon

An Irish monk dies in a Benedictine abbey in northern Italy on the eve of the second millennium. When Brother Thomas of Worms attempts to investigate the murder, his abbot accuses him of inventing trouble to avoid his duty to God and assigns Thomas the chore of copying a Biblical text as penance. Neither copying nor humility comes easily to an intelligent man like Thomas, who struggles with his commitment to obey his abbot. While in the library, Thomas is drawn to a gnostic book that leads him to a discovery that threatens the very fabric of the Church. When more monks perish, Thomas's loyalty to the monastery and its rites is tested, and he risks expulsion as he seeks to uncover the link between the murders and the hidden codex that has shaken his faith.

" this is an intriguing look at life in a cloistered monastery at the turn of the millennium. The story line is fast-paced and filled with twists..."

Stephen Gaspar’s TO KNOW EVIL is a moody and atmospheric medieval mystery with a sleuth as cunning as Brother Cadfael and a monastery as creepy as in Umberto Eco’s NAME OF THE ROSE.

Deeply atmospheric, TO KNOW EVIL combines the ancient mysteries of the DA VINCI CODE with a traditional whodunit. With accurate detail, Stephen Gaspar paints a riveting picture of medieval monastic life and a group of monks with human failings. Readers may see a bit of themselves in Brother Thomas of Worms.”

"Stephen Gaspar crafts an intriguing tale of betrayal and murder, set in a monastery on a remote mountaintop in northern Italy..."

Check out the great Youtube promo for To Know Evil by Greg Maxwell

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Study in Sherlock

This past November was the 125th anniversary of the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in Print. A Study in Scarlet was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887. It is now a rare collectible and considered the most expensive magazine in the world, with a Beeton's 1887 selling for $156,000 at Sotheby's in 2007.
 Beeton's Christmas Annual was a paperback magazine published from 1860 (volume 1) through 1898 (volume 39).  Each issue also carried a distinctive title reflecting that season's contents.  The 1887 edition, entitled "A Study in Scarlet," was approximately 8.5" x 5.5" and had color pictorial wrappers (cover).  It was issued in November at a price of one shilling and sold out before Christmas.
Cold-Hearted Murder by Stephen Gaspar is an homage to A Study in Scarlet; the first half of the story has Holmes and Watson investigating a series of bizarre murders, and the second half tells the remarkable story of what led up to these crimes. In A Study in Scarlet the backstory takes place in the American West, while in Cold-Hearted Murder the backstory is set during the Great Klondike Gold Rush in the Canadian North-West.
Cold-Hearted Murder is now available on Kindle.
Cold-Hearted Murder on Amazon