Murder in Jerusalem & Little Greys
Sometimes when I come across a new author whose latest works I’ve enjoyed, I decide to take a look at some of their earlier titles to see what they had written before they came to my notice; sometimes you can find some earlier titles that really showcase their imagination and talent for writing, little gems that deserve to be more widely read and acknowledged. Such is the case with author Paul Leone, whose successive publications have deeply impressed me, and highlighted him as a growing talent in several genres. His Alternate History triptych In and Out of the Reich managed the near-impossible feat of revitalising the tired, stale and heavily clichéd ‘Victorious Third Reich’ scenario with its clever combination of Michael Palin-style-travelogue and cogent observations of what a 21st Century Third Reich would look like – superficially dominant, but with strains and deficiencies showing everywhere under its surface. Most recently, Leone’s collection of Occult Detective short stories, The Mysteries of Zillah Harvey not only demonstrated that he can deftly move between genres at will, but also provided ample evidence that he possesses the wit, imagination and innate understanding of the requirements of the genre to also become a rising star in the Occult Detective genre. I expect great things to come from Leone – some of his upcoming work is extremely exciting – and a look back at several of his earlier shorts that are available on the Kindle highlight earlier indications of his talent.
Demonstrating that Leone had a knack for Alternate History long before his journey into the grim depths of the Third Reich is his short story Murder in Jerusalem, originally published in 2015. While in his later work Leone tackled one of the most well-known scenarios in the Alternate History genre, Murder in Jerusalem couldn’t be any more different to that triptych if it tried. Set in modern-day Jerusalem, as the title indicates the story’s narrative revolves around the murder of a young woman in the holy city, and three very different people who find themselves involved in the murder investigation. But whereas Jerusalem in our reality is a major city in the state of Israel, in the universe Leone depicts in the short story, the city is actually at the centre of a sprawling, ultra-powerful Crusader state that seems to encompass much of the Middle East. We see this incredibly different city-state through the eyes of those three protagonists, each providing a subtly different view of the city, its inhabitants, and the power structures to be found within it. Sister Elixabeta’s viewpoint open the story, and while we get an idea of the background of the victim and her cirumstances, Elixabeta’s main purpose is to demonstrate the sheer scale and majesty of this 21st Century Crusader City-State, with holy buildings seemingly on every corner and bus-loads of pilgrims being brought in from across the world to marvel at it and the power that it represents. But the majesty and holiness is just a cover, something shallow and easily permeable, as demonstrated by Detective Metodius, a tired and weary veteran who reluctantly takes on the investigation, only to find that it has disturbing, political implications that soon draw the eye of those far above him amongst the city’s powerful. And finally comes another potential victim, Ilisaba, whose panicked flight through the city, in an attempt to escape those who are attempting to clean up any witnesses to the original murder, not only gives us a wider look into the murky depths of Jerusalem’s society but also evidences the wide-ranging and terrifying power of religious institutions in the City-State. Taken all together, Murder in Jerusalem is a fast-paced, deftly plotted and imaginative slice of alternate history fiction, set within a cleverly-devised universe that’s similar enough to our own to draw in and engage the reader, but also disturbingly different once you dive under the surface. Aided by great characterisation and some subtle yet highly effective world-building, Leone develops a setting that I really want to see more of in the future – there seems to be so much to explore and use as a framework for more short stories and even entire novels.
While Little Greys is a science-fiction story rather than alternate history, it shares many commonalities with Murder in Jerusalem, once again demonstrating Leone’s skilful ability to develop unique, engaging settings with just a little bit of world-building and some imaginative writing. Once again set in the 21st Century, though nearer to the middle of the century than the beginning, Little Greys posits a world in which aliens – the titular Little Greys – actually did make contact with humanity and land on Earth. However rather than coming in peace, these aliens are bloodthirsty conquerors with an intention of enslaving or killing all of humanity. Rallying and fighting back after the initial landings, by the 2050s, the humans have managed to limit the territory the aliens control to the island of Manhattan. Effectively settling into a stalemate, the few land-links between the two sides are heavily barricaded and regularly patrolled. One of those links is the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in West Brooklyn, and as the story begins a squad of soldiers from the US 42nd Infantry Division have been chosen to conduct a sweep of humanity’s side of the tunnel. Not only will they check the barricades and ensure they haven’t been breached by the Greys, but they’ll also evict some homeless families who have taken up residence in the tunnels. But what should have been a simple mission turns into a chaotic, bullet-riddled disaster as a pack of Greys swarm over the barricades. Her squad mates slaughtered or missing, Private Riley Robertson must find cover in the treacherous environment and repel the alien invaders; her only alternative is to be torn apart and butchered. Leone gives us a fast-paced and action-packed story set within the claustrophobic confines of the famous tunnel systems, with a fantastic set-piece early on as the human squad comes face to face with some particularly vicious and distinctive aliens. But he also manages to develop Robertson as a three-dimensional character despite the short wordcount, as well as provide some intriguing background and world-building thanks to the judicious use of flashbacks to Robertson’s recent past as a recruit. It’s another fantastic short story, rich with imagination and a wider world just crying out to be developed further, and as a bonus ends with a terrifying cliffhanger.
Taken together, Murder in Jerusalem and Little Greys are two solid short stories that demonstrate Leone’s range and skill as a writer, and his prodigious and deeply impressive imagination. Little Greys is an action-packed sci-fi thriller that has some intriguing concepts running through its narrative that show Leone has thoughts well beyond a mindless action thriller; and Murder in Jerusalem highlights Leone’s ability to conjure up whole counterfactual worlds that are far more original and engaging than the usual tired and dessicated scenarios one usually sees in the Alternate History genre. They’re both more than worth the purchase price, with enough content and imagination that you can come back to them repeatedly, as well as providing a fascinating insight into Leone’s earlier writing processes and potential future publishing avenues.
Murder in Jerusalem & Little Greys