Who would you choose to judge you long after your death? How about a professional historian? How about Felipe Fernández-Armesto? Much lauded and read, this professor of history at Notre Dame, Indiana is the author of many books including short histories of humankind and the world and longer ones of exploration, Hispanic America and the year 1492. As you begin Straits, his account of the life and voyages of Fernando de Magallanes, known in English as Ferdinand Magellan, the explorer credited with the first European navigation from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the straits at the tip of South America in 1520, you may quail at the thought of his searing judgments.
When I was 14 my father took me to a bookmaker’s and encouraged me to place a bet. He wanted to show me the futility of gambling, I think. Big mistake. I picked a horse called Maroof at 66/1 in the Queen Elizabeth II stakes at Ascot. My father put on 50p each way. Maroof romped to victory, no problem. ‘I think I’ve just ruined your character,’ said my father, not entirely joking, as he handed over the winnings. He had.
In the tight dark maze of alleys that wind between the Thames and St Paul’s the pleasures of the living are intertwined with those of the distant dead.
Try it for yourself on a late Saturday afternoon. Start by immersing yourself in the eerie darkness of the Temple of Mithras (ancient stones, reconstructed Roman voices calling for strong drink, a pagan pit beneath the guileless Bloomberg building); emerge and cross over to the Roman Watling Street, where you will see tribes of Essex women – Boudicca’s spiritual daughters – with faces of bronze, brandishing not fire but fags and lighters outside busy pubs and bars.
Because I once made the mistake of dabbling in Egyptology, some ‘friend’ will schwack me every other week with a meme, cartoon or article about people who still believe the pyramids were built by aliens. I have longed for a handy single volume to present to these loons, full of unarguable evidence putting this business past dispute – and Pierre Tallet and Mark Lehner have provided it.
In 2013 excavators in Egypt’s Eastern Desert on the Gulf of Suez uncovered the world’s most ancient harbour installation at Wadi el-Jarf.
Thriller writers are hard pressed to stand out in what’s become a very crowded field. As a result, from Cardiff to Kansas we meet every conceivable kind of detective: if one walks with a telltale limp, another has no legs at all. Even the requirements of diversity can’t disguise the desperation of the search for distinctive heroes, or how variety itself has become a convention.
Simon Mason’s A Killing in November (Quercus, £14.
A bully-boy leader. A corrupt, out-of-touch regime. A twisted reading of history. An unprovoked, military-led landgrab. A domestic disinformation blitz. And an enemy that, contrary to all the aggressor’s expectations, fought back. We’ve been here before. Not on the scale of Russia’s attack on Ukraine perhaps, nor with the tragic cost to civilian lives. But wind back 40 years and something akin to Putin’s demented assault played out in the South Atlantic.
The war in Ukraine has turned a lot of people’s attention to oligarchs in the UK. How did these guys all end up in London, seemingly owning half of Belgravia? In Butler to the World, Oliver Bullough offers an answer.
I read his earlier work Moneyland slack-jawed at the blatant – and mundane – techniques employed to register UK Ltd companies through frontmen and use them to launder money. I thought the middle men would be glamorous and slick, not running a website from an office above a chip shop.