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A brace of brief book reviews. Both goodies, that I enjoyed and recommend.

The Trade Secret

by Rob Newman (that Rob Newman, the good looking one out of Newman and Baddiel)

4 stars

Set in the dying days of the seventeenth century: James I is on the throne, the first seeds of British imperialism are being sown, with the Levant Company – the original bully-boys of embryonic capitalism – already influencing British foreign policy to their own nefarious ends, and lowly Nat Bramble, ‘named after the bush he’d been whelped under’, has just lost his master’s (the delightfully Dick darstardleyish Sir Anthony Sherley, who seems to have been every bit the roguish chancer Newman makes him) money in some ill-fated speculation on the Persian money market. In a desperate attempt to win back the lost cash and save his neck, Nat throws in his lot with an impoverished poet, Darius Nouredini, in an expedition to bring oil to the fuel-starved city of Isfahan and make their fortune. It doesn’t end well for Nat, but fate sends him spiralling on a personal journey that has him well on the way to a sparkling career in commodities, as the novel ends.
A thoroughly improbable, very enjoyable tale, well seeded with Newman’s – now trademark – historical factoids and more than a little bit of politics. Less overtly political, and consequently, much more enjoyable, than his previous novel, The Fountain at the Centre of the World, The Trade Secret is set against a backdrop of pirates and slavers, the beginning of the oil and coffee trade, and early pigeon fanciers. It’s not a literary masterpiece and the politics do get in the way at times, but it is a rollicking good and easy read, well worth a few hours of your time.

The River of No Return

by Bee Ridgeway

4 stars

Clever, engaging and very readable – if not entirely original and unpredictable – with a little bit of Time Travellers Wife, a little bit of Jonathan Strange. Georgette Heyer is an acknowledged influence – but then, what is entirely original? Every author is inspired by the stories that went before. The River of No Return is a time travel book with a big love story at its heart and a dash of espionage and intrigue. It’s a big book (584 pages) but a fast and easy read. A genuine page-turner with heart and soul.