In brief: Untitled: The Real Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor; The King’s Evil; Circe – reviews

A sympathetic biography of Edward VIII’s American wife, an enthralling Restoration crime thriller and Madeline Miller’s excellent retelling of The Odyssey

Untitled: The Real Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

Anna Pasternak
William Collins, £20, pp368

Most biographical accounts of Wallis Simpson have painted her as “the American harlot”, as she was known by the British public during her relationship with Edward VIII. Anna Pasternak’s empathetic study of Wallis attempts to redress the balance and emphasises her intelligence, independence and unwillingness to ruin the life of the man she loved. Some will believe Pasternak’s conclusions to be overly sympathetic, and this book does not replace Anne Sebba’s That Woman as the definitive contemporary work about Wallis, but with such aggressive press coverage of Meghan Markle, it is useful to be reminded that perceived royal interlopers have always been treated harshly.

The King’s Evil

Andrew Taylor
HarperCollins, £14.99, pp464

The third in the series of Andrew Taylor’s crime novels set in the Restoration era could be the best yet. Moving on from the Great Fire and its aftermath, which dominated his previous books, Taylor’s main characters Cat Lovett and James Marwood find themselves caught up in a conspiracy that spans London’s high and low life alike, as Cat is framed for a murder at Clarendon House and Marwood must prove her innocence. Taylor has a rare knack for conjuring up an authentic historical atmosphere, and his description of a teeming, uncertain London in a state of flux is vivid and compelling.


Madeline Miller
Bloomsbury, £8.99, pp352

Madeline Miller’s excellent Circe ties in with the current vogue for classical revisionism in that it looks at a famous incident from literature from the female perspective. In this novel, the episode from The Odyssey where Odysseus is stranded on Circe’s island becomes, in Miller’s retelling from Circe’s perspective, a stirring account of feminine empowerment and hard-won agency. Yet she never forgets the reason these books have endured is because of the strength of the storytelling, and, as in her debut, The Song of Achilles, this works as the most compelling of fantastical sagas as well.

• To order Untitled: The Real Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, The King’s Evil or Circe go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99


Alexander Larman

The GuardianTramp

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