Project Description

The Sandpit

(publication July 2020)

When John Dyer returns to Oxford from Brazil with his young son, he doesn’t expect to find them both in danger. Every day is the same. He drops Leandro at his smart prep school and walks to the library to research his new book. His time living on the edge as a foreign correspondent in Rio is over.

But the rainy streets of this English city turn out to be just as treacherous as those he used to walk in the favelas. Leandro’s schoolmates are the children of influential people, among them an international banker, a Russian oligarch, an American CIA operative and a British spook. As they congregate round the sports field for the weekly football matches, the network of alliances and covert interests that spreads between these power brokers soon becomes clear to Dyer. But it is a chance conversation with an Iranian nuclear scientist, Rustum Marvar, father of a friend of Leandro, that sets him onto a truly precarious path.

When Marvar and his son disappear, several sinister factions seem acutely interested in Marvar’s groundbreaking research at the Clarendon Lab, and what he might have told Dyer about it, given Dyer was the last person to see Marvar alive.


“A joy to read”

Sunday Times

“Wonderfully well written… old school in the best possible way, with an insidious escalation of menace, and paranoia that fairly shimmers off the pages”


“Robert Harris once wrote that writing a book which was both a thriller and a literary novel is ‘a difficult trick but in my book the greatest to bring off.’ It was something Graham Greene managed at least half-a-dozen times, and Nicholas Shakespeare now does it with The Sandpit. There are echoes of Greene, also of Conrad and Le Carré. Yet these influences have been absorbed as good writers always absorb the influence of their predecessors and go beyond it to make something that is wholly their own, striking an individual note… One good test of a novel is: does it re-read? Well, I’ve now read The Sandpit twice, and I’m pretty sure I shall read it again in a few months’ time”

Allan Massie, Scotsman

“Quite simply excellent. If you’re looking for something exciting and sinewy to read, this is it. There’s no mistaking quality when it appears in book form”

John Simpson

“Exceptionally well written”


“A beautifully considered, subtle exploration of Englishness, of betrayal, of social change and character – elegantly and engagingly wrapped in a classic spy novel”

Rory Stewart

“A grimly absorbing literary thriller with shades of John le Carré… opens a window onto the murky world of international nuclear policy and espionage amorality”

Evening Standard

“The best novel of its kind I have read since the turn of the century”

Charles Cumming

“Shakespeare sets up the myriad pressures on his protagonist with consummate skill, keeping the reader guessing about the motives of everybody Dyer encounters. There are more than a few hints of Graham Greene and John le Carré here… In its exploration of how individual actions can have huge and unexpected ramifications, The Sandpit is an enthralling read… the theme of how ordinary individuals negotiate the pressures brought down on them by extraordinary events generates superb drama”

Literary Review

“Gripping stuff, deftly told. Yet within this nail-biting novel of suspense is another, more contemplative novel… that invites comparison to Graham Greene. Here is a fine writer, spinning suspense with the ease, patience and control of a fly-fisherman”

Cressida Connolly, The Oldie

“A paranoia-filled page turner”

Sunday Telegraph

“The best evocation of Oxford since Brideshead”

Allan Massie

Praise for Nicholas Shakespeare

Nicholas Shakespeare gathers comparisons to the great and the good. He needs none. He is what he is — a very fine English novelist

John Lawton

Nicholas Shakespeare honours the best traditions of the novel

Thomas Keneally, TLS

One of the best English novelists of our time

Wall Street Journal

A great novelist

Peter Craven, The Melbourne Age