Mean Business, a historical thriller by Jeremy Strong, is one of those books for which the word “rollicking” was invented – it’s a romp, a ripping yarn, with a smart ear for late 19th Century dialogue, but often with a 21st Century tongue firmly in cheek. Written in the form of a first-person memoir, much of the dramatic (and indeed comedic) tension comes from the gap between Arthur Yeoman’s narration and what the reader can perceive is really going on. (The scene in which Yeoman describes a carnal encounter with a chambermaid in terms that assume equal sexual innocence in both parties is as funny as it is strangely sweet and touching). The story itself is a cracking page-turner, but the greatest strength is undoubtedly the characters. The motley crew of proto-spies (and their opposing villains) are all engaging and vividly drawn, while in Valentine Fanshawe Strong has created a truly memorable anti-hero, who (like all the best amoral characters) is tremendous fun to spend time with. And although this is a self-contained story (thankfully there’s no cynical cliffhanger ending), the world of Mean Business and its inhabitants are enticing enough to warrant further adventures in the future.

Dan Berlinka - BAFTA-winning writer