The Lost Ten

Written by Harry Sidebottom
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

An exciting standalone historical thriller, The Lost Ten is set in 3rd-century Rome and has all the attributes of a top war movie. We have a set of unsavoury battle-hardened Romans from the Frumentarii secret service, lumped together with an untested officer who’s never set foot outside Rome, and sent on a secret mission that seems to promise nothing but certain death. The mission? Travelling swiftly through enemy territory to rescue a young scion of the Persian royal family from the wonderfully titled and formidably defended mountain eyrie, the Castle of Silence. The only thing pulling this team of misfits together is the slim chance of making it out alive. For good measure, there’s also a traitor confounding the mission at every turn. Just think of Where Eagles Dare but set in the desert, and you have a good picture of this engaging and pacy thriller.

As in his previous historical novels, Harry Sidebottom’s deep knowledge of antiquity is used to much advantage in The Lost Ten. The enticing descriptions of the rapidly-changing exotic landscapes and the efficient characterisation of a host of different nationalities and religions also aid the story, keeping the reader hooked through gritty encounters with Arab bandits, desert sandstorms, Persian arrogance, and bloodthirsty tribesmen. We do get to know the characters gradually, but really the story is the thing here; we want to find out which of our unprepossessing heroes will make it through and who will bite the desert dust. That tension running throughout The Lost Ten is expertly handled by an accomplished historical novelist who keeps this thriller on track and on time for a reader-satisfying ending.