Friday, September 17, 2010

"The Pindar Diamond"

Katie Hickman is the author of two best-selling history books, Courtesans and Daughters of Britannia, and two travel books, Travels with a Circus, which was shortlisted for the 1993 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon.

Her novels include The Quetzal Summer, for which she was listed for the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year award, The Aviary Gate, and The Pindar Diamond.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Pindar Diamond and reported the following:
Once again the Page 69 Test has proved uncannily representative!

Page 69 of The Pindar Diamond describes the first meeting of my two principal characters: a young nun, Annetta; and the maverick John Carew, servant to a rich English merchant.

The setting is in Venice, 1604. At the beginning of the novel we are introduced to Annetta, a woman with a disquieting past. As a novice she was captured by corsairs in the Adriatic, taken into captivity, and sold as a high-caste slave to the mother of the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople. On the death of the Queen, Annetta regains her freedom (as was the custom of the day), but instead of marrying an Ottoman lord, she chooses instead to return to her convent on the Venetian lagoon, enriched by a large dowry. With her ambiguous past and her sharp wits, Annetta is seen as a disruptive and transgressive figure by the nuns of the island convent.

John Carew has also returned to Venice after several years living in Constantinople, where he had accompanied his master, the Levant company merchant Paul Pindar, who travelled there as part of an English trade mission sent by Queen Elizabeth I to the Ottoman Sultan.

Although they do not yet know it, Annetta and John Carew are intimately linked by a third character, an Englishwoman named Celia Lamprey. Celia was once engaged to be married to Paul Pindar, but she too was taken into captivity and sold into the Sultan’s palace. Annetta and Celia had become like sisters in the brutal world of the harem – but then tragedy stuck. Everyone believes that Celia has been killed, her punishment for trying to be re-united with her former lover. (This story is told in full in my previous novel, The Aviary Gate.)

But what really happened to Celia Lamprey? Is she dead or alive? Many years later these thoughts still torment Paul Pindar, but he is galvinised by the appearance in Venice of a priceless diamond, the Sultan’s Blue. Could the diamond be linked to the mysterious nun, and through her to Celia Lamprey?

Pindar sends Carew to the Convent to investigate, not realising that his servant’s nocturnal wanderings – as a monachino, or seducer of nuns - have already brought him into contact with that establishment.

It is under these circumstances that Annetta and John Carew are fated to first meet, with explosive results.
There was a pause, as though he were considering something. ‘All right, then, this time I’ll let you off,’ he said, still holding her fast against him, ‘but in return I want you to promise me something.’

‘Promise what?’

‘Promise you won’t tell anyone what you saw last night.’

Annetta considered her options; she felt she would rather have her head boiled in oil than promise anything to this man, but pragmatism soon got the better of her. Of course she would promise him anything he liked, the stupid fool. And as soon as she got safely away from him she would tell everyone, but everyone, what she had seen, scream it from the convent rooftops if necessary.

‘All right, I won’t,’ she answered him meekly, ‘I promise I won’t tell anyone what I saw – ‘ but immediately the words were out of her mouth she knew that she had fallen into his trap.

‘Ah! So you did see something!’

Stronzo! She detected a change in his tone of voice: could it be that he was smiling, or worse, actually laughing at her?

‘You’re wrong, I didn’t see anything, not really!’ Annetta was floundering now, but she knew it was no good.

‘Oh, yes you did. Describe to me what you saw.’


‘It’s not hard to understand. I said, describe to me what you saw.’


‘Oh go on. Which bit did you like the best? Was it just a bit of kissing, or.... something a bit more exciting? She’s very eager to please, that little nun, but then you usually are you know.’

Stronzo, stronzo, stronzo!’

‘Language, please!’ Carew was really laughing now. ‘Well, I’d wager that you haven’t been a nun all your life.’
Learn more about the author and her work at Katie Hickman's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviary Gate.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue