ANNE ATKINS is best-known these days as a columnist and broadcaster, and someone who has shared widely some of the stresses of family life. Back in the 1990s, however, three of her novels were published. Twenty years on, she picks up the threads of one of these in An Elegant Solution.
Like its prequel, On Our Own, the plot focuses on Cambridge, specifically the University, and King’s College and its iconic chapel. The plot is complex, involving financial corruption, date rape, mathematical puzzles, bitcoins, and, above all, a plan to blow up the chapel during the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve 2018. Not only will the chapel and everything that it represents be destroyed, but all those inside (including the Duchess of Cambridge) will perish if the plot succeeds.
Central to the book is Theo, a child with autism in On Our Own, and now a Junior Research Fellow with a special interest in Number Theory. But Theo is being stalked by a man with a grudge against him from the past. He stumbles across the deadly scheme. But will he and his friend, Charlotte, a classics student, be able to outwit the would-be bomber and prevent disaster?
The book is certainly a page-turner. The author is particularly successful in her creation of her central character, who must constantly negotiate a world dominated by the neuro-typical. (In the acknowledgements, she makes it clear that Theo is inspired by one of her own five children, Alexander; Theo’s mother is even called “Ann”.) As such, the book is a warm and affectionate portrait, and will be a revelation to those who haven’t lived with autism in the family.
Sadly, the other characters suffer by comparison. And the plot, though largely pacy and engaging, seems at times unnecessarily complex, and leaves loose ends.
Sarah Meyrick is a freelance writer and novelist.
An Elegant Solution
Malcolm Down £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18