The Red Hill by David Penny

Cover of The Red Hill

The title is the English translation of “The Alhambra” – who knew? Not me!

I’d had David Penny’s first historical novel, The Red Hill,  on my to-read list for a while, and what made me shunt it to the top of the pile was having just read two other books set in 20th and 21st century Spain. I thought it was about time I found out a bit more about the country’s history.

To be honest, I knew next to nothing about Moorish medieval Spain, and I’ve only ever been to Spain once, for a mini-break to Barcelona, so my grounding was minimal. David Penny’s novel, set there in 1482, was certainly an easy way to learn more about it.

Within the first couple of pages, I was gripped by the sense of time and place, and also by the key character, an English surgeon (nicknamed “the butcher” – yikes!) who has adopted the region and culture as his own.

Terrific Sense of Time and Place

David Penny skilfully unveils the duality of the time and place for the modern reader, highlighting its seductive sensuous and sensual appeal side-by-side with its horrifying morality and ethics, in a world in which the ruling Sultan unhesitatingly ends lives cruelly and on a whim, and where life and the individual are considered cheap. I dislike reading about violence, and the author cleverly includes just enough to alert the reader to the ethics of the age without ever becoming gratuitous. If this was a film (and it would make a great film), I would have to cover my eyes a few times

Fortunate to be a favourite of the Sultan, Thomas Berrington, the surgeon, gains several appealing sidekicks, including an engaging eunuch Jorge who plays Watson to his Holmes, as Berrington leads the highly dangerous investigation into a string a murders within the Sultan’s palace. The characters are complex and highly developed, and they mesh well together, with snippets to their back stories feeding into the narrative along the way.

I was really pleased to learn that not only has David Penny already published a sequel, but he has plans for 8 more installments in what is going to be a cracking series.

My Mum’s Seal of Approval!

And it’s not just me that he’s hooked – my mum (81), who is the most avid reader I know, declared The Red Hill to be in her all-time top ten of historic novels that she’s read, and that’s an awful lot of historical novels!

David Penny headshot

David Penny

To find out more about David Penny, visit his author website:

To buy this book on Amazon, click here – or click the link in the sidebar to the right of this page to find your nearest bookshop to order it from.


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