Peter Millar’s Stealing Thunder was a debut of considerable power and invention: a thriller much enriched by its carefully researched historical detail. The second novel is, of course, the post at which many a writer has fallen, but Bleak Midwinter was even more accomplished than its predecessor, with its scarifying picture of plague breaking out in Oxford. Millar utilised the past in a particularly felicitous counterpoint to his modern narrative (the entire population of a small village died in the winter of 1348-49 and this was significant for the modern narrative), while his protagonists were a powerfully characterised group.

And here’s Black Madonna, perhaps Millar’s most fully realised novel. Near Gaza, a young archaeologist has stumbled across a striking discovery: perhaps the earliest known image of the Virgin Mary, apparently dating from her lifetime. Before Millar’s protagonist can share her find, it is taken from her in during the violence of an Israeli airstrike.

As one would expect from the ever-reliable Millar, geopolitics jostle with sheer storytelling nous in an exhilarating thriller that allows the reader to keep their brain cells fully engaged (hardly de rigueur in the genre these days).

Arcadia Books

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