Publisher: Macmillan Australia
Publication date – 31 July 2018
In her first solo novel, Australian Meaghan Anastasios has produced a deeply compelling historical drama that combines a thriller storyline with an archaeological investigation into one fun and invigorating narrative.
In 1955, world-renowned archaeologist and war hero Benedict Hitchens has been living a life of academic exile in Istanbul. His promising archaeological career and professional reputation were destroyed after a chance encounter with the mysterious Eris, who held a horde of ancient treasures that validated the legends of the Iliad. When Eris and her treasures suddenly disappear, Ben’s attempts to find her result in suspicion from the authorities and disbelief from the world at large. His only tangible proof of the encounter is a small tablet that hints at the existence of Achilles, Ben’s archaeological obsession.
Now, Ben embarks on an ambitious plan to flush out the people responsible for Eris’s disappearance, hoping to bring her to justice and salvage his life and reputation. The clues that he uncovers take him on a quest to find the tomb of Achilles, travelling through Greece, London and Turkey in order to locate one of the world’s greatest treasures. However, a shadowy group is manipulating Ben at every turn. Can Ben find the Achilles’s tomb before the ghosts of his past catch up with him?
Despite this being her first solo book, Anastasios is already a successful author, having previously teamed up with her husband to produce the historical drama The Water Diviner, which was adapted into a movie starring Russell Crowe. While this book does not appear to be connected to Anastiasios’s previous work, both stories are primarily set in Turkey and focus on key events in the country’s history. The Honourable Thief does contain a fun little callback to her other novel when its main character is at one point nicknamed ‘the Water Diviner’ due to his uncanny ability to find archaeological material.
The overall story that Anastasios presents with The Honourable Thief is a fantastic narrative that combines mystery and suspense aspects, great historical fiction elements, exploration of Greece and Turkey, and a whole lot of archaeology. There is a great focus on the impact of World War II on Greece, especially Crete, as well as a detailed examination of Turkish history and culture. Having the protagonist work on uncovering both an archaeological investigation and a conspiracy around missing artefacts is an interesting combination that creates a very interesting story. The ties to the stories of the Iliad as the protagonist examines the possibility of finding the tomb of Achilles are fascinating and will appeal to fans of the classics.
The author has split The Honourable Thief into two parts and three separate timelines. Part I of the book only briefly touches on the storyline set in 1955, and instead focuses on the events in the protagonist’s life that led up to the latest timeline. One of these storylines looks at Ben’s early life during the 1930s and 1940s, including his experiences during World War II. The second storyline is set in the early 1950s and focuses on the events that led up to Ben losing his reputation and the beginnings of his self-destructive life in Istanbul. Part II of the book mostly contains the 1955 storyline, and follows Ben’s quest to clear his name.
This split into three distinct storylines is a great way to highlight The Honourable Thief’s intricate narrative, and it was interesting to focus on the earlier timelines in the first half of the book. This also allows the main plot to continue almost uninterrupted in the second half of the book, ensuring that the reader can completely focus on the intense and electrifying adventure set around the protagonist’s hunt for answers. This formatting decision was a great change of pace from other novels that slowly reveal their protagonist’s past through the course of the entire story.
While the vast majority of The Honourable Thief is told from the protagonist’s point of view, some very short chapters that buck this trend have been added into Part II of the book. These smaller entries are inserted before the longer chapters that focus on the protagonist and contain brief, shadowy conversations between the story’s villains. During these chapters, these hidden characters discuss and analyse the actions of Ben and work out ways to manipulate him further. The identities of these conspirators are not revealed within these chapters, which builds intrigue as the reader tries to work out who they are. These short chapters are a terrific addition to the book, as they provide the story with some short, but stimulating, breaks in the narrative. It also adds a completely new perspective to the story and allows the reader insight into the machinations of the book’s antagonists.
Anastasios has created an interesting and memorable protagonist for her excellent story. When Benedict Hitchens is introduced, he is a disgraced and self-destructive character who does not elicit a great deal of sympathy from the audience. However, the author’s clever use of the separate storylines allows the reader to view his backstory, which explores his obsession with finding Eris and Achilles. Both earlier timelines are vital in explaining the character’s motives and emotional baggage, turning Ben into a tragic and sympathetic character. It is also fascinating to see the changes that have happened to the character during the various timelines. For example, his experiences change his entire outlook on life and make him more likely to engage in reckless actions. It also changes his style of archaeology as he goes from the academically accepted practice of carefully digging trenches and laboriously recording every single detail, to a more reckless technique reminiscent of a tomb raider like Indiana Jones. Anastasios has included an interesting character flaw for her protagonist: despite him being a brilliant archaeologist, he keeps falling for a series of blindingly obvious manipulations, which becomes quite frustrating for the reader to watch.
The reader may find it is possible to predict many of the book’s various twists well in advance, and that lessens the impact of the story. The eventual reveal of who the antagonists are also was not too uprising. However, there is one significant, if not slightly ridiculous, twist in the last few pages of the book that nobody is likely to see coming. While these negative aspects are slightly detrimental to the story, I felt that the all the book’s other amazing elements more than make up for it and turn The Honourable Thief into a captivating and highly enjoyable read.
This fantastic novel is a superb first solo outing from Anastasios, who has crafted an excellent story of betrayal, mystery and adventure, all bound together with archaeology and history. Cleverly utilising three separate timelines into one compelling narrative, The Honourable Thief is a powerful and distinctive read that will appeal to a huge range of readers.