cover image Lion Heart

Lion Heart

Justin Cartwright. Bloomsbury, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-62040-183-5

Cartwright (Other People’s Money), winner of the Hawthornden Prize, no doubt will garner further accolades for his latest, the story of 30-something London academic Richie Cathar’s investigation into Richard the Lionheart’s quest for the True Cross. The project begins for Richie as a half-cocked plan to rebound from a breakup and, possibly, learn more about his dead father, a hippie and self-styled historian obsessed with the medieval king. It soon escalates, though, into a globe-spanning caper, complete with stops in both Jerusalem and Oxford, kidnappings, international espionage, and plenty of scandalous family secrets emerging. Richie’s story is cleverly interwoven with references to real-life events, from the finding of Richard III’s remains in a Leicester car park to the civil war in Syria. Though the plot is familiar, Cartwright’s writing has qualities not to be found in conventional thrillers like The Da Vinci Code: the pathos of Richie’s quest for family, and a self-aware, self-effacing sense of humor, as when a lover encourages Richie to write about his experiences but leave out certain plot turns, as “nobody would believe that anyway.” It’s a striking formula that gives this literary thriller uncommon depth—and makes it uncommonly satisfying. Agent: James Gill, United Agents. (Mar.)