AN intriguing and potentially explosive explanation of the origins of the First World War is offered in a new book by a Cotswold author.

Toby Purser, who lives in Hidcote Bartrim, near Chipping Campden, with his wife and three young sons, has written historical spy mystery, The Zaharoff Conspiracy.

It is the second novel by the 42-year-old, who is an education studies lecturer at the University of Northampton.

Set in Oxford in 1914, features a royal secret marriage, a deadly conspiracy and explores the origins of the First World War.

It follows the story of historian Septimus Oates who is given a bundle of documents and news clippings by a mysterious stranger as he lies dying in a quiet Oxford street.

Little does he know, but the unsuspecting historian is jettisoned headlong into a web of deceit, betrayal, revenge and long hidden secrets.

Mr Purser said he came across the secret marriage idea more than a decade ago and thought it would make an interesting novel.

"It stuck in the back of my mind for years," he said. "There's a theory that George III had a secret marriage before his official marriage and had children by her.

"The book is a combination of a bit of historical research and travelling around central Europe and a passion for Prague and Vienna where a lot of the novel is set.

"It's the first of a few. Th e next one's planned for 2016 and will be set in 1916 with the First World War as a back drop."

Mr Purser, who is also pub author at the Ebrington Arms, said writing the book meant he could enjoy one of his passions - steam railways.

"As it's set in 1914, the hero goes everywhere by steam train," he added. "One of the best bits of researching the novel you can get hold of the Europe time table Bradshaw's Guide.

"He goes to all these places by steam and he's got Bradshaw's with him."

The book, published by Methuen, is out on Thursday, March 27 and costs £8.99. It will be available in shops including Waterstones and Blackwells and The Borzoi Bookshop, in Stow.

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