Rebecca Moore finds plenty to like — and a little to envy — in a thrilling debut work

It’s best to avoid the author blurb for The Serpent Papers before diving into the story because you may acquire an unfair bias against it . . . or maybe it’s just me who has lifestyle envy.

Jessica Cornwall is under 30, was educated at Stanford before heading overseas and participating in research and grant projects in Oxford, India and Spain, and is now a writer living between London and the Californian sunshine.

Not only that, she’s good.

Her debut novel, The Serpent Papers has been described as the “most exciting thriller of 2015” and follows Anna Verco — a savant, academic and treasure-hunter working for a mysterious benefactor to recover long-lost books — who also happens to traverse Europe on research missions, having had a similarly top-notch education.

The Serpent Papers starts slowly with a sinister prologue before immersing the reader in a world of libraries, myths and the curious eccentricities of our female lead.

At first, its style left me somewhat confused, chopping quickly between Anna’s internal monologue and the action, or slicing its way swiftly to new locations. However, despite her oddities, I warmed to Anna and followed her easily into this atmospheric world.

This is a thriller, sure, but it doesn’t slap you awake with high adrenaline from page one.

Instead, it’s thoughtful and measured, building tension naturally. It spans various histories and I particularly enjoyed its Eurocentric nature: Barcelona and its history and mythologies loom large and richly.

The ending is everything required from a thriller: I had to put the book face-down a few times to make tea and calm myself.

This is a very solid debut novel, if you like your thrillers intelligent and richly realised.

The Serpent Papers
Jessica Cornwell
Quercus, £14.99