The Red Hill

Written by David Penny
Review by Richard Denning

This novel takes us back to the year 1482. Englishman Thomas Berrington is a physician in a city in the last remnants of Moorish Spain. The Spanish are expanding their grip on the country and war is a perpetual threat. Berrington is trusted by the Sultan and was even given one of the harem woman he healed from an attack as a servant and lover. So it is that with an assassin stalking the palace and attacking the Sultan’s wives, Thomas is given the job of investigating the murder. The Sultan’s officials and guards, who have looked into the matter, have failed to solve the mystery and so he turns to the physician.

Thomas is given, as a co-investigator, the eunuch Jorge, and the two develop an unlikely and at times tense and confrontational partnership. As they investigate the murder, further attacks occur, witnesses disappear and officials seem to do their best to obstruct them. In the end Thomas and Jorge are themselves put in harm’s way.

There are times when reading a new novel by a new author when you get that excited feeling when you realize you have discovered a character you would happily read more about by an author who has created a world you would happily return to. So it is with Berrington and David Penny. The quality of the writing is easily up there with the likes of C.J. Samson whose Matthew Shardlake series I am also very fond of. The physician, Thomas Berrington, competes with the lawyer Shardlake as a likeable, multifaceted hero.

When we review self-published novels we get asked to comment on such matters as the quality of the editing, the typesetting and layout and any aspects of the book that might be improved. The only comment I would make is the author chose to start each chapter on a right-hand page – even if that meant a page or more of white space. This is a very minor issue and a matter of choice and style, not a flaw, but blank space is a rarity these days of ‘green energy saving’.

Overall I can recommend this novel for fans of historical detective stories and look forward to further episodes.