Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mystery Book Review: The Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of The Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.The Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman

The Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman
Penguin Books (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-14-303662-9 (0143036629)
ISBN-13: 978-0-14-303662-3 (9780143036623)
Publication Date: February 2006
List Price: $14.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): When a twelfth-century Sicilian cat burglar snatches a sack of artifacts from the king's geographer's library, the tools and talismans of transmutation—and eternal life—are soon scattered all over the world. Nine hundred years later, a young Connecticut reporter finds evidence that someone is collecting them again.

In the process of investigating the suspicious death of a local professor, Paul Tomm finds the dead man's heavily fortified office stuffed with books on alchemy. The Geographer's Library entwines his contemporary reporting with a chain of ancient stories-within-the-story, tracking the last time each of the geographer's tools changed hands—some bought, some stolen, some killed for.

Review: Jon Fasman's debut novel, The Geographer's Library, is a literary adventure tale that will captivate its readers with a murder mystery interlaced with a fascinating insight into the history of alchemy and the pursuit of its treasures. (Alchemy is the study, the science, and the process of transformation. Deliberate transformation. Of anything into anything. This definition is important to understanding the nuances of the characters in the book.)

Paul Tomm, a reporter for a small paper in northwest Connecticut, has his interest piqued when, following the death of a Professor of Baltic History, information about the man's background seems remarkably difficult to obtain. Following a near death experience himself, he learns more about the dead scholar and his obsession with obtaining the contents stolen from a geographer's library almost 900 years ago.

The Geographer's Library is written as a first person narrative of Paul Tomm. The wonder, confusion, and fear expressed by Paul during his investigation is convincingly conveyed to the reader. At one point he states, "All this for what could have been an obit at the back of a newspaper that a few hundred people would have run their eyes over before throwing away ... But it had grown into something else, something that thrilled me even as it frightened me, made me feel that I had finally cracked through the pane of smudged glass, broken the surface of the sea. I finally felt like something other than an observer in my life." This is an exceptionally well written book.

As good as Paul's account is, the 16 side stories in chapters alternating with the narrative, each representing an object stolen from the geographer's library, are absolutely riveting. Though having little to do directly with Paul's story itself, these mini-vignettes provide an intriguing glimpse into the history of alchemy and serve as the back story into the life, and ultimately death, of the mysterious professor.

The Geographer's Library ends with an interesting and unexpected twist that provides a very cogent conclusion to this exceptional book.

Special thanks to FSB Associates for providing a copy of The Geographer's Library for this review.

Review Copyright © 2006 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

Hardcover version: Penguin USA, February 2005, ISBN: 1594200386, $24.95.

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