Chatto & Windus, £25, 384pp
Hester Grant’s deeply researched and beguilingly written historical biography has timely resonance in its focus on Granville Sharp, one of the Northumberland Sharp family immortalised in Johann Zoffany’s 1781 group portrait. Granville was a leading figure in the battle for the abolition of the slave trade movement, and Grant charts his actions with flair and authority, but this fine book also has a great deal of time for his sisters, Elizabeth, Judith and Frances, whose lesser-acknowledged achievements were impressive in their own right and given due credit here.
Hutchinson, £12.99, 320pp
Any novel that deals with the seamy underbelly of the 18th-century grand tour, that fixture of aristocratic gap years, treads in the footprints of Patrick Süskind’s Perfume. Here Neil Blackmore tells the journey of two strait-laced brothers exploring the continent in 1763, and the corruption of the younger, Benjamin, by the enigmatic chancer Horace Lavelle. It is a shame that Lavelle, clearly intended as a charismatic and seductive figure, comes across as petulant and irritating, but this remains an enjoyable dip into decadence.
Penguin, £8.99, 480pp
Fey Pirzio-Biroli was in a dire situation in September 1944. Her children had been seized by the SS, her father had been executed after a failed assassination attempt on Hitler, and she had been captured as a potential hostage. Yet war had hardened her, and Catherine Bailey’s fascinating, thriller-like account of her desperate attempts to escape captivity and reunite with her family is told with pace, authority and poignancy. Fey’s story ultimately had a happy resolution, but not before she, like many others, was exposed to the most unthinkable predicaments.