Nicholas Shakespeare’s first novel since 2010 is a literary thriller set in a damp, wintry Oxford. The book’s protagonist will be familiar to Shakespeare’s regular readers: John Dyer appeared in his third novel, The Dancer Upstairs (1995), as a journalist to whom a detective relates his gripping life story, including his capture of a South American revolutionary. A peripheral figure in that earlier novel, Dyer here takes centre stage.
Now in his late fifties, Dyer has given up journalism for a rather aimless existence in Oxford as a writer of books on South America. He has published one about the social and cultural history of the Amazon basin, which was ‘carefully reviewed in the TLS and in one or two anthropological quarterlies, and forgotten’, and is now researching an indigenous Brazilian tribe.
His eleven-year-old son, Leandro, attends the Phoenix, a north Oxford prep school that Dyer himself went to. At the end of each school day he waits for Leandro in the Phoenix’s grounds by the sandpit, a three-metre-square enclosure that sparks memories of his own childhood. One afternoon he finds another