Alexandria by Edmund Richardson is one of those rare histories that turns out to be a page turning mystery.

Alexandria is the story of Charles Masson; a chancer, an adventurer, a self taught archaeologist, a spy and ultimately a victim of class prejudice. It’s also a history of 19th century India and Afghanistan and the power and influence of the East India Company.

I expected this book to be about Alexandria in Egypt but it turns out that throughout his conquests of Asia and the Middle East, Alexander founded cities which were named after him including one at Bagram in Afghanistan. Masson’s search for the relics of this Alexandria in a hostile Afghan landscape is threaded into the history of the kingdom and the machinations of the British.

History or mystery, this is a great tale well told.


Like Flies from Afar

Like Flies from Afar by K Ferrari is a staccato violent novel based on a single day in the life of Mr Machi. If that sounds like it should be a gritty page turner then you may be disappointed.

Machi discovers a body in the boot of his car and spends the day pondering who planted it and why while endeavouring to dispose of the body. The plot is interspersed with incidents from Machi’s violent rise to power and a catalogue of people who might have a grudge against him.

I found Like Flies from Afar to be tedious and pointless, I didn’t care what the end was going to be, only that it would come soon. Thankfully it is pretty short.

According to his publisher

“Ferrari works as a janitor for the Buenos Aires metro at the Pasteur-Amia station on line B. In the 1990s, he was deported from the United States, where he and his wife were trying to find work.”

I wouldn’t encourage janitors across Latin America to give up their day jobs. This may appeal to some and has been heralded as a sensation by some critics, I’d recommend giving it a miss.


The Devil and the Dark Water

The Devil and the Dark Water is Stuart Turton’s second novel, it follows the widely acclaimed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Turton really does have a different take on historical crime fiction, combining gothic and fantasy in an intriguing fashion.

The Devil and the Dark water is set aboard a cargo ship in the 17th century travelling from the Batavia (Jakarta) to Amsterdam. Think Conan Doyle meets Agatha Christie. The hero, Arent, is a Watson-like character while his Holmes is locked in the belly of the ship, an apparently dead leper (not a rock band) is roaming the ship, murdering people and terrorising the passengers and crew. The heroine, Sara, has of course fallen for Arent but how will she escape from her bullying husband? It’s a complex crime mystery, none of the characters are what they appear to be and every time you think you can see where it is going there is another elegant twist.

I enjoyed this very much, Stuart Turton has now written two very original novels and has definitely got me hooked. More please.



There’s a lot of historical crime and spy fiction about at the moment – CJ Sansom, SG Maclean, CS Quinn and SJ Parris to name a few that I have enjoyed. I wonder why all of these authors choose to use both initials rather than their first names?

Chaos, the second novel by AD Swanston is a worthy addition to the list. Set in Elizabethan London, Dr Christopher Radcliffe (the Earl of Leicesters chief Intelligencer) is struggling to uncover the source of counterfeit coins that are causing panic and riot within the city. Strange messages start to appear on the walls of the city and then plague crosses are daubed on doors. Chaos is very close but Radcliffe and his informers are getting no closer to finding out who is responsible or why.

At the same time Radcliffe’s slightly unusual personal life is unravelling, his housekeeper is in Newgate accused of witchcraft and his paramour abandons him.

Chaos is very good, a pacy read with fascinating detail about Elizabethan London and politics.


The Sandpit

The Sandpit by Nicholas Shakespeare is a bit of a slow burner but well worth persevering with.

John Dyer, an ex journalist, has returned from Brazil to Oxford with his son and enrolled him in the rep school that he had attended nearly 50 years ago. Life is dull and predictable in the middle class Oxford academic and school community until an Iranian, Rustum Marvar, parent entrusts John with the results of his research. When Marvar and his son disappear, the mystery unfolds at pace as different intelligence services and murky business interests encircle John and his son trying to find the potentially world changing secret.

The Sandpit is elegant, well observed and quite readable but overall a little unsatisfying.


The Sin Eater

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is very definitely different. Set in a version of Elizabethan England that has dystopian hints of the Handmaid’s Tale, the story is told by May Owens, who is the Sin Eater.

Sin Eaters hear the sins of others and then eat foods associated with each different sin, they carry those sins with them to the grave and relieve the sinner of the fear of dying and being cast into some form of hell with Eve rather than going to their Maker. It is a cruel world where the burden of being the city’s Sin Eater and a social outcast is imposed on women by the mail judges as a way of exercising power and revenge.

May discovers a plot to kill the Queen, a mystery about her own parentage and eventually realises her own agency and independence.

After a slightly slow start The Sin Eater is a compelling read well worth persevering with. I think this is Campisi’s first novel, I hope she writes more.