Nick Rennison is a writer, editor and bookseller. His books include Sherlock Holmes: An Unauthorised Biography, Robin Hood: Myth, History, Culture, The Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide and 100 Must-Read Historical Novels. He is a regular reviewer of historical fiction for both The Sunday Times and BBC History Magazine.
It is 1870. When amateur archaeologist Adam Carver and his loyal but obdurate retainer Quint are visited in their lodgings in London’s Doughty Street by an attractive young woman, their landlady is not pleased. The visitor’s arrival pitches Carver and Quint headlong into an elaborate mystery which comes to centre on the existence (or not) of a lost text in Ancient Greek, one that may reveal the whereabouts of the treasure hoard of Philip II of Macedonia. Two deaths soon ensue as master and manservant follow what clues they can grasp in the roughest and most genteel parts of the teeming metropolis, with the whiff of cordite and blackmail never far from their nostrils. The scene shifts to Athens and the wilder fastness of a Greece gripped by political unrest as Carver and Quint join forces with Adam’s former Cambridge tutor in an attempt to track down the elusive text. But nothing is quite what it seems, and no one involved is prepared for the final, shocking denouement amidst the extraordinary hilltop monasteries of Meteora…
This book has much to make it appeal to the reader of Historical Fiction and Historical Crime Fiction because it is advertised as Flashman meets Sherlock Holmes. The only problem with that description is that it builds a level of anticipation in the reader. There isn’t even the smallest spark of Flashman in this novel, and the only similarity to a Sherlock Holmes novel is the time period and that Carver has a sidekick.
This isn’t a bad book, its just not a thrilling book, well not for the first two thirds, then when we finally reach Greece it starts to pick up. The early part of the book seems to be too much laying of ground work and back story. For me the author should have built this part of the tale into the treasure hunt, maybe in a retrospective / timeslip. To borrow a phrase from a fellow reviewer, the early part of the book seems a 2 dimensional world with 2 dimensional people.
Rallis and Greece seem to be the catalyst that brings the book finally to life. Which is a shame, the author clearly knows and likes his time period especially 1870’s London, he has no issue with the use of the English language, but maybe that contributes to my issue. Any book blurb that contains the phrase “but his obdurate retainer” is going to be somewhat wordy, and this book was most certainly that.
This is a 430 page book and took me a week to read, about four times longer than it should. It was a slog. But that said I did finish it, something made me keep reading. Maybe it was the premise of finding the treasure of Philip of Macedon, maybe it was the grumpy nature of Quint the “Obdurate Retainer”? I honestly don’t know, this isn’t a bad book, and unlikely to be a great book, personally for me it was frustrating and hard work, a slog. But I spent a week with Carver and and Quint and even got to like Quint by the end, any experience is ultimately something learned so it wasn’t time wasted.
I cant recommend it, Personally it wasn’t my cup of tea, but i can see how some will enjoy it so read the blurb, have a think. If you like the time period you may enjoy it.