‘Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know’ – Samira Ahmed

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication, and introducing me to a story that reeled me in slowly.

The title stems from a phrase used to describe the poet, Lord Byron. I wasn’t sure how this phrase could possibly link to the story, but it eventually became clear.

Our narrator is Khayyam, a seventeen year old American student who is fascinated by Art History but who is smarting from her most recent essay being discredited. While on holiday in Paris with her parents, Khayyam meets Alexandre Dumas (yes, really) – a descendant of the writer. They get talking, and before we know it a strange kind of hunt for missing treasure begins.

Both are convinced that Dumas had links with the painter Delacroix, and think that the link has something to do with a mysterious raven-haired beauty mentioned in works by Dumas and Byron, and featuring in paintings by Delacroix. Alongside this story in the present – which, in itself, would have been intriguing – we have the story of Leila, a young woman in the 1800s who has been the favourite of the Pasha, but who cannot bear him children.

It takes a while for the links between the characters and their stories to become clear. The hunt itself took something of a backseat for me as I was captivated by the attitudes to women and how history has, often, overlooked so many stories simply because of the gender of the person telling the story.

This was definitely a story that appeals on a number of levels. Yes, there are some amazing coincidences in this hunt, but the exploration of identity and the passion coming through for the subject was evident.