Ayesha Ryder bears the scars of strife in the Middle East. Now her past is catching up to her as she races to unravel a mystery that spans centuries—and threatens to change the course of history.
As Israeli and Palestinian leaders prepare to make a joint announcement at the Tower of London, an influential scholar is tortured and murdered in his well-appointed home in St. John’s Wood. Academic researcher Ayesha Ryder believes the killing is no coincidence. Sir Evelyn Montagu had unearthed shocking revelations about T. E. Lawrence—the famed Lawrence of Arabia. Could Montagu have been targeted because of his discoveries?
Ryder’s search for answers takes her back to her old life in the Middle East and into a lion’s den of killers and traitors. As she draws the attention of agents from both sides of the conflict, including detectives from Scotland Yard and MI5, Ryder stumbles deeper into Lawrence’s secrets, an astounding case of royal blackmail, even the search for the Bible’s lost Ark of the Covenant.
Every step of the way, the endgame grows more terrifying. But when an attack rocks London, the real players show their hand—and Ayesha Ryder is left holding the final piece of the puzzle.
Ryder by Nick Pengelley is a compelling read, but it is one that may not please everyone, both due to its format and due to its content. To start with the content, Ryder is very much a story in the vein of The Da Vinci Code and The Rule of Four; academic thrillers that work as a sort of treasure hunt following the clues to solve the mystery. It’s the aspect I enjoyed most about Brown’s Langdon books, so I enjoyed it here, but if that is not your thing, then this might not be the book for you.
To move on to the content and the biggest elephant in the room: this is a politically charged novel. Whichever side of the dispute you’re on, whatever your thoughts, the Israeli-Palestine conflict is bound to draw a big reaction. There is just so much history, emotion, pain, and complex politics bound into that situation, that a neutral stance on it is almost impossible to find. That means that the book will either agree with your views or it won’t, depending on your stance. While on the whole Pengelley’s narrative seems to come down on the side of the Palestinian case, he doesn’t in any way paint all Israeli’s as bad guys, not at all even in my opinion. In fact, some of the book’s most important secondary characters, most notably Sir Evelyn and Judah Ben David, the book’s Israeli prime minister, are Jewish and Israeli people who support the Palestinian cause and are working for a peaceful solution. Still, I think that this element might be a deal-breaker for some people.
As mentioned before the mystery is somewhat Da Vinci Code in flavour, yet (almost) all set in London and dropping in fascinating historical facts about the city, ones I hadn’t learned of before. The mystery centres on T.E. Lawrence and the events just prior to his death. Being largely unfamiliar with the famed Lawrence of Arabia – I’ve never even seen the film – this aspect was fascinating to me and I loved the historical facts woven into the book. Pengelley plots his mystery tightly, with several very unexpected twists, some of which were real heartbreakers. He paces the narrative very well, keeping up a high pace, but letting the tension slack just enough from time to time to give the reader some time to breathe.
Ryder features a sympathetic cast. Our protagonist the eponymous Dr Ayesha Ryder is interesting, complex, and also somewhat mysterious. There are secrets in her past the reader only learns during the course of the narrative, The one thing about Ayesha that somewhat bugged me is that there seemed to be somewhat of a disconnect between Dr Ayesha Ryder and the sixteen-year-old Fedayeen she was in the past. Not so much in an internal sense – Ayesha knows who and what she is – but to the outside world at least. Most people are unaware of her past and her extra-curricular skills. It’s also never completely clear how she came to live in London after her time as a Fedayeen.
Ayesha is drawn into the murder investigation by DI Holden and DS Bryan due to her expertise on the Middle East which she shared with Sir Evelyn. I liked how these two police officers are built up. Holden is depicted as brash, impatient, and perhaps not as well-educated as those around them, while his inferior, Bryan, is polite, calm, and clearly very smart, a fact that seems to annoy Holden to no end, especially once he notices that his knowledge impresses Ayesha. My favourite secondary characters however were Dame Imogen, the Director-General of MI5 and Lady Carey, a former government agent. These two ladies are made of well-tempered iron and I loved that they are both older, Imogen being middle-aged and Lady Carey being an octogenarian, but both of them are still sharp as blades.
I very much enjoyed this high-octane, academic adventure, not in the least due to the history lessons thrown in there. If the political aspects of the novel don’t rub you the wrong way, this is a very diverting read. A second Ryder novel will be released in January and I for one am looking forward to discovering Ayesha’s next adventure.
A Fantastical Librarian is just one of the stops on this blog tour. Please visit the other stops for different views on the book and author guest posts.
Monday, September 22nd: Bell, Book & Candle
Monday, September 22nd: Omnimystery News – guest post
Tuesday, September 23rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, September 24th: D. L. Kamstra | Writing about Stories
Thursday, September 25th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, September 29th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, September 30th: Tales of a Book Addict
Wednesday, October 1st: Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, October 6th: Crime Book Club “I Knew Nothing!” author guest post
Monday, October 6th: Crime Book Club – review
Tuesday, October 7th: Read Love Blog
Friday, October 10th: A Fantastical Librarian
Friday, October 10th: Mystery Playground – Drinks with Reads guest post
Monday, October 13th: By the Book Reviews
Tuesday, October 14th: the smitten word
Wednesday, October 15th: Dwell in Possibility
Thursday, October 16th: Queen of All She Reads
Friday, October 17th: 2 Kids and Tired Books