Mad, Bad & Dangerous To Know by Samira Ahmed

Mad, Bad & Dangerous To Know is a young adult novel with an unravelling mystery, as a seventeen year old budding art historian ends up on the heels of a lost painting, and a woman forgotten by history. Khayyam is spending August in Paris as she does every year, dealing with the mess of a failed essay prize and almost-ex boyfriend she left behind in Chicago. When she meets a descendent of Alexandre Dumas, a young Parisian guy with access to documents about Dumas’ life, she starts to try and unravel the story of a lost Delacroix painting given to Dumas, which in turn reveals a woman with connections to these men and to Lord Byron, and whose story needs to be told.

Ahmed weaves together Khayyam’s summer with the story of Leila, fighting for her true love in the Ottoman empire two hundred years previously, to bring together works of literature and art with fiction. The novel is an enjoyable mixture of fiction, real elements of history, and a protagonist realising she wants to fight for women’s stories. Khayyam’s desire to unravel the mystery, and the parallels she finds with elements of her own life and identity, give the book a powerful meaning, but these are combined with the fun of the Parisian setting and the drama of Khayyam’s love life to make it a book that would be ideal to read on holiday (especially one in a old city, with a sense of these kinds of stories waiting to be discovered). For some people, the historical figures will just be part of the narrative, but for others this might spark an interest in Dumas, Byron, or looking for the lesser known woman around these or other men.

This is a perfectly pitched YA mystery that combines secrets of the past with a young woman hoping to prove herself. As a Byron fan that element was an extra bonus, especially the focus on The Giaour, but there’s no need to know anything about the historical figures in the novel to enjoy it.

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