Nov 4, 2014

Book Review: The Spoils of Avalon by Mary F. Burns

The Spoils of Avalon
Title: The Spoils of Avalon: A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery (Book One)
Author: Mary F Burns
Published November 1, 2014; Sand Hill Review Press
Genre: Historical Fiction/Historical Mystery

My comments: This novel is set in two time periods - Victorian England and the 16th century in Glastonbury, England. It is an interesting blend of history, myth, and legend involving the history of the dissolution of the Catholic monasteries in England by Henry VIII after the Reformation in the 16th century, and the ancient myth and legend of King Arthur and the Isle of Avalon. 

It's also a mystery novel as writer Violet Paget and the painter John Singer Sargent investigate the death of a clergyman friend of Paget's who had sent her a book on the Abbey of Glastonbury. Legend has it that ancient church relics and treasures had been hidden in the abbey during the 16th century, and Paget guesses that the book has clues to elucidate the past. 

Atmospheric settings and intriguing historical facts are woven into this impressive novel. I recommend it for English history buffs and mystery lovers both. The main characters, Paget and Singer Sargent, are an unlikely pair for sleuths but this works well as the book is also set in Victorian England.

My objective rating: 4/5

Publisher description: 

The Spoils of Avalon introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends: the brilliant Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads Paget and Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings—including the legendary Arthur—as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon bridges the gap between the industrialized Victorian Age and the faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.

Paget and Sargent were possessed of keen minds and bohemian tendencies, unorthodox educations and outsized egos. Henry James once described Violet Paget as having “the most formidable mind” of their times, and he was an active fan and patron of John Sargent, introducing him to London society and his own inner circles of literary and artistic genius.

About the author: 
Mary F. Burns is the author of PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST (Sand Hill Review Press, February 2013), and a novella-length book, ISAAC AND ISHMAEL, being published in 2014. Ms. Burns’ debut historical novel J-THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE BIBLE was published in July 2010. She has also written two cozy-village mysteries in a series titled The West Portal Mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery and The Tarot Card Murders).

Ms. Burns attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois and has a law degree from Golden Gate University. She was employed as a director of employee communications, public relations and issues management at various San Francisco Bay Area corporations, was an editor and manager of the Books on Tape department for Ignatius Press, and has managed her own communications/PR consulting business.

Visit her website or on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

Visit the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for the tour schedule and other reviews.
Thanks to the author for an advance review copy of the novel. 


  1. I enjoyed your review Harvee. This sounds like a book I would enjoy. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  2. History and mystery--it sounds like a book I'd also enjoy, Harvee. Very nice review!

  3. This does involve a very interesting time period and events.

    The fact that it is set in two time periods, neither one of them modern, seems to be unusual.

    1. Hi Brian - I think it's unusual too! In fact, I had been thinking about writing a novel about Glastonbury Abbey during the time of Henry VIII, but wasn't quite getting there. Then, separately, I was inspired to start writing the Sargent/Paget mysteries, which of course needed to be set in the late 19th century. By a series of wonderfully serendiptous occurrences, the two stories and time periods came together! And, going forward, I'm going to make it an element of the mysteries -- that the 'crime' that Sargent and Paget are trying to solve will be linked to something in the past -- and I'm really looking forward to creating all sorts of wonderful time-travelling links (so to speak). Thanks for commenting!

  4. Love the cover! Glad you enjoyed it!


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