Twenty-something twins travel to Frankfurt, where unexpected adventure and turmoil await them. The fourth installment of West’s Sir Anthony Standen Adventures opens in the summer of 1612. The family vineyard near Rome is producing well, and Sir Anthony decides to purchase the adjacent vineyard. Now they must expand their market for an anticipated increased yield. Maria suggests that she and her brother Antonio bring samples of their wine to the Frankfurt Trade Fair, where they hope to attract a large wine merchant. Little do the siblings suspect that they will find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery and political upheaval that will put their lives in danger. They enter Frankfurt, and as they gaze around at the vibrant, bustling main market square, Antonio notices that a handsome young man is admiring Maria. Enter Manuel Nuñez, a doctor with a complicated past who adds a new layer of interest to the novel. When Maria and Antonio visit the home of pawnbrokers Edith and Daniel Bamberger and later find the elderly Jewish couple’s murdered bodies, they vow to ferret out the killers, winding up embroiled in the “Fettmilch uprising,” a historically documented savage siege against Frankfurt’s small Jewish community. Here West reaches the heart of this episode—the story of the political unrest among the town merchants and the vicious antisemitism that is roiling Frankfurt. The early part of this installment, which for the first time uses the second generation of Standens exclusively as lead protagonists, progresses slowly, focusing on the budding romance between Maria and Manuel rather than on adventure. But with the discovery of the Bamberger murders, the narrative accelerates and moves into the realms of meticulous investigation, espionage, and high action that are the hallmarks of the Standen Adventures. West, as always, sprinkles informative historical tidbits within the story and seamlessly integrates early-17th-century conventions, styles, and such miraculous innovations as Manuel’s gadget the Janssenscope, a prototype microscope.

Tender love and chilling mob violence alternate in this engaging, disturbing period drama.

Kirkus Reviews

The author once again uses excellent background knowledge and research to seamlessly integrate fact and fiction in this historical mystery. – LoveReading

The tension building in the plot held my attention and I was keen to keep reading to see what would happen. Alongside the investigation we also see feelings grow between Maria and Manuel and the obstacles they could face if their relationship flourishes. I liked this plot line as someone who has read previous books, as it offered opportunities for happiness for Maria, while also not being entirely separate from the conflicts shown in the rest of the story. – LoveReading

this series has successfully diversified with the focus on the younger two Standen characters and was an interesting and entertaining historical amateur detective story that I think fans of historical fiction or mysteries will enjoy. – LoveReading

Called to Account’ is the fourth adventurous outing for Sir Anthony Standen and his remarkable family, written by his direct descendant; the author David West. Fans of ‘The Spy who sank the Armada’ [and surely everyone who has read this must be a fan!] will already be acquainted with the extraordinary renaissance like gifts of Sir Anthony; his grit and tenacity, his inherent sense of justice, his cold blooded bravery and his ability to achieve results. With ‘Fire and Earth’ and ‘The Suggested Assassin’ we learn even more of the man and of his talent for sleuthing and, increasingly, of his talented and equally determined twin children, Antonio and Maria. ‘Called to Account’ is exclusively devoted to the two and of what befalls them in the course of a speculative business trip to the German city of Frankfurt.

The year is 1612 and with the acquisition of further land next to their property and vineyards in Frascati near Rome, the family decide it is time to expand their wine producing business. It is Maria’s suggestion that she and Antonio test the international waters by travelling to the bustling and prosperous German city of Frankfurt and assess the interest there in their wine and brandy. Such is Sir Anthony’s trust and faith in the abilities of his children, still in their early twenties, that he agrees.

Pausing only to allow Antonio to have a blazing argument with Gina, his medical student fiance, in Bologna, they traverse the Alps and witness a highly distressing witch trial in the town of Stuttgart before continuing to the grand city of Frankfurt, lying on either bank of the river Main. The city is clearly the ideal spot in which to trade and make their fortunes. A jewel in the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, it had been declared an Imperial Free City over two centuries earlier and had established a system of exchange rates thirty years earlier. But all is not well in this bustling and prosperous city. A Jewish quarter had been established a century and a half earlier. This had grown and, by the turn of the century, the Jewish population represented over fifteen per cent of the entire population, and growing fast. This fact is of great importance to the plot of ‘Called to Account’. Matters were coming to a head in 1612 when the new Holy Roman Emperor, Mattias, was elected and the breach between the ruling patricians and the merchant classes was growing ever wider, coming to a head with the ruling City government’s refusal to make public the Imperial privileges of the city or to take action against the much hated and prejudiced Jewish community. The city in which Maria and Antonio so optimistically and perhaps rather naively arrived in was, in short, a powder keg with the fuse already fizzing! At first impression the city is ripe with opportunity:

”The streets were busy. There were stalls on either side of the streets with merchants advertising their wares. The buildings were four, five, even six stories high, and brightly coloured in green, yellow, red and brown. They gazed through the open doors and windows as they drove past. Most of the buildings seemed to have shops on the ground floor. The window shutters folded down to become tables, on which a range of products were displayed. As they rode further into the centre of the town, the houses became even grander. They saw openings into courtyards, with the shutter tables displaying goods, and further stalls in the centre of the courtyard…..”

Frankfurt, or so it seemed to the twins, positively reeks of prosperity; just the place to further the Standen fortunes. They have no means of knowing, but Maria and Antonio are about to be plunged into a double murder and a violent and bloody pogrom! And it is shortly after that Maria first meets a handsome young man, a physician with a surgery in the city, Dr. Manuel Nunez; a man who is to become her future lover and to be part of the events that will shortly overwhelm them all. Manuel, the son of a Spanish woman and raised in the Netherlands, has the natural curiosity of his profession and is devoted to the rationalisation and spirit of enquiry that so marks the age. West, in fact, in all his books makes frequent references to the men of science of the period and their discoveries and often conflicting scientific and medical theories. Manuel, for example, is the proud owner of what he refers to as a ‘janssenscope’ – an early form of microscope that will be vital in a subsequent murder enquiry of two elderly Jews that the twins and Manuel undertake. When Maria tells him of the witch hunts in Stuttgart the rationalist nature of Manuel leads him to voice an opinion and a partial explanation:

”…my theory is that the climate has been changing, and crops have been failing. Vineyards have been hit badly too….Modern science and reason have been probing the secret of God’s creation. Everywhere they find exquisite harmony and order. Planets dance to a mathematical pattern. Artists, musicians, architects and poets perceive strict laws of harmony and structure that please us, and God. God has created an ordered, organised Universe. Therefore, something like crop failure must be the result of someone disturbing God’s order…” [ there in Frankfurt they have no need to hold witches to blame for the upset of the natural and God ordained system of natural balance] ….”They don’t need witches to blame. They have another group to carry that burden, the Jews….”

This is a statement of rationalism ‘par excellence’ and, bearing in mind the hellish conflagration that is about to befall the city of Frankfurt, remarkably prescient. Meanwhile, in the full flush of youthful enthusiasm, Maria and Antonio rent a house and secure a stall in the main market square; and in the selling of their wine and brandy from their Frascati estate, business is brisk as they sell their wine by the cup or flagon. The fine Sangiovese grape is much to the local liking! A local and sympathetic local wine merchant arranges an introduction to a highly influential English wine merchant, who upon meeting them and sampling their wares, bedazzles them with the purchase of a large consignment of wine and brandy, and the prospect of further large orders to come. The Englishman, Thomas Berry, is a huge fan of their products and urges them to look into bottling their wine, an idea new to them and, of equal importance, he informs them of the concept seemingly equally new to them; that of ‘The Bill of Exchange’ in lieu of payments in cash. In the administration of these documents the Jews were especially well connected. Manuel knows of such a man, a patient of his. Thus it is that they meet the Jewish pawnbroker Daniel Bamburger and his wife. The twins, in fact, had already met them briefly in the market when they had sampled their wine. Bamburger agrees to see to the arrangements and that they can collect the documentation the following day. When they return it is to discover that the married couple have been very recently murdered and that, indeed, they may have disturbed the murderer in the act! This changes the nature of the whole of the narrative, turning into an exciting murder mystery, as Maria and Antonio turn sleuths, employing skills taught to them by their multi talented father; the combined arts of lock picking and undetected surveillance, not to mention vigorous self defence. They add to this brew their own courage and a great ‘sangue froid‘. Both find the level of antisemitism quite shocking and extraordinary and utterly beyond their comprehension. The hard pressed Mayor of Frankfurt, in the midst of vainly attempting to prevent a violent insurrection of the non Jewish citizens and ordering them to cease their investigation, strives to explain the causes and effects of it.

…..”The Jews are banned from most regular trades, but they make excellent physicians, organisers and financiers [and Daniel Bamberger had been all of these things] Times have been hard recently and many citizens have had to turn to Jewish money lenders, like Bamberger. They blame me for protecting the Jews, claiming that I am taking bribes from the Jews, which, by the way, I’m not. You can see that I can’t allow the trial of a citizen for the murder of the Bambergs. I fear a riot would be inevitable. I walk a narrow line…..”

But Antonio and Maria have, through a series of deductions and hard work, narrowed down the list of suspects and are convinced that they have their man. Unfortunately, they are arrested and thrown into prison for breaking and entering and theft and are hauled off to separate cells to await sentencing and it is then that mayhem erupts and there occurs a violent and bloody revolt – ‘the Fettermilch Rebellion’ and in the midst of great violence and atrocities the main target of animosity, the Jewish quarter, is looted and burned to the ground. Much of the ensuing narrative is given over to a gruelling and truly harrowing account of this blood soaked anti Jewish pogrom, in the course of which the twins are liberated when the City gaol is stormed. Throughout the narrative the blooming romance between Maria and Manuel flourishes, despite the revelation that he is in fact a Jew, posing as a Christian, as he successfully pursues his career as a physician in the city. Throughout the uproar Manuel labours heroically in the Synagogue, tending to the injured and wounded as the body count inexorably rises. In a pause in his feverish work in the Synagogue, he takes a moment to explain his deep love for Maria to his co-religionist, the Rabbi:

”…She’s the most beautiful woman in the world. She’s Venus, Aphrodite and Eve rolled into one. No, they pale in comparison. She has their voluptuousness, but in a more masculine way….masculine is the wrong word. It’s just that her curves are sculpted, somehow. It’s that Greek image of feminine beauty, sculpted by Olympian athleticism. Yes, that’s it, she’s athletically voluptuous…[ he hastens to add, perhaps for the sake of decency]….She’s even more beautiful on the inside.”

Having thus passionately unburdened himself to the presumably very open and broad minded Rabbi Levi, he returns to his infinitely less romantic tasks of setting bones, staunching blood and dressing first degree burns. It is thus fortunate that his deep and growing love for Maria is reciprocated. Indeed, at certain points, West moves into the realms of pure romantic fiction: Again, amidst the carnage of the temporary hospital in the Synagogue:

….”His arms squeezed her and her fingers danced across his back. She couldn’t breathe, but she didn’t need to. A great white light was flooding through her, washing away her pain and her shame. She writhed as it cleansed her, letting it soak every part of her, from the tips of her hair to her toenails.”

As the rebellion rises to a crescendo, Maria and Antonio reach even higher degrees of energy and determination to right wrongs; breaking both in and out again of the beleaguered town city hall and conveying women and children to safety. They are asked on a number of occasions why they are so intent on pursuing the case of the murdered Bambergers. To which Maria explains rather simply: ”We seem to have inherited a strong sense of justice, no matter who the victim or murderer. I think we got it from our father.” and, of course, they are equally determined in setting about achieving the further growth of the Standen family fortune.

So, with ”Called to Account”, David West has achieved what he has already achieved in his previous three novels. He has captured an extraordinary period of time of European history and set believable and likeable characters firmly within it. There are frequent and aptly chosen references to the spirit of the age, evinced by his frequent references to notable historical events, inventions and public figures, both political and intellectual. He has combined all of this into a stirring tale that combines love, adventure, murder mystery and family saga. A thoroughly enjoyable read.


“Called to Account” by David West receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company