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2.9 out of 5 stars
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2.9 out of 5 stars
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on 15 July 2005
I was quite excited at the prospect of reading this book. The storyline appeared fascinating and I quickly read the first hundred pages. After this, some tedium set in, caused by the fact that every other chapter is set in the present, in a story that makes some sense, whereas the intervening chapters are all set somewhere in the past, between 1000 years ago and recent past, and it is not clear on reading them how much detail one has to absorb.

For instance, many of the intervening stories involve new characters, unconnected with anything else, and it is too easy to regard them as just displaying one facet of the history of the objects at the core of the story. So, you disregard the details of the names of their characters and then realize later that perhaps one (or several) of these characters are still in the present (or are they? or are they all the same character??). Then, the real reason for the strange goings on in the present turns out to be only marginally relevant to the history of the objects in the Geographer's Library after all.

The ending of this novel is far from satisfying, and I was confused about what had actually happened. If there is a consistent story behind this novel then it has not been told very well. Compare this novel with "Shadow of the Wind", where a confusion of present and past is masterfully resolved, to see the difference between a fair and a great novel.
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on 7 June 2005
The genre of the intellectual thriller has received a big fillip in the last few years with the success of Dan Brown's Dan Vinci code. What a pleasure to read now a modern thriller about a dead and mysterious history professor that contains whimsical scholarship without exaggeratedly thrilling sleuthing; as our bashful hero Paul Tomm tries to find out the circumstances surrounding the death of an Estonian academic, one finds oneself distracted by the beautifully written historical sections based around the geographer al-Idrisi. These sections on alchemical objects are tantalisingly fragmented, beautiful vignettes of different cultures, from Soviet Russia to twelth-century Arabia. There are moment of subtle beauty - as the 'shivering words' which, falling in ice shards from the mouth of a Siberian zek, are held captive in a box for ever....One of those books that you pasue to read, to take in the elegance of the ideas and the limpid, placid prose. Wonderful. What kind of second book can this debut writer produce?
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on 28 August 2005
I was utterly disappointed in this book. It sounded like a good read but did not meet expectations. I found the chapters about the artefacts interesting but could not make a link to the main plot. I read to the end believing all would become clear but it did not.
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on 9 June 2006
The blurb dangles a tantalizing carrot offering an intellectual thriller with a gripping story line fluctuating between present day America and latter day Europe, USSR and the Middle East. The story is woven between the present and the past via alternating chapters in a way that could work but ... well, just doesn't. The chapters set in the past are fascinating and generally well written. The chapters set in the present follow our young sleuth reporter in the US who is, frankly, so unbelievably wet I'm surprised the author didn't mention the drip marks that I'm certain he left wherever he went!! I read to the end waiting for the climax that simply never arrived. Rather than a "wow" it was more of a "really ... is that it?".

The idea is good and the author clearly has a passion for the historical story but I'm afraid that the book as a whole just doesn't work. If you're interested in history or the culture of the former USSR then it may be worth reading for those parts. Just don't expect the whole thing to tie together.
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VINE VOICEon 10 September 2006
The book would be excellent, but it doesn't feel finished. You are over half way through the book, and you look at the remaining pages and think "There must be another book to finish it off", but you're wrong. That's it. The makings of an excellent book, the character's are well introduced, the plot gets thicker and more complicated and then..... then he is sat down told everything, and goes to bed, the end. If there was a sequel it would be fantastic, but this should just be the beginning. It's not, and so it's not recommended.

Overall, the book has a very rushed ending which ruins the whole thing.
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on 14 October 2009
Like others, I found the present-day sections of this story readable. The main character is likeable and the mystery he's investigating is initially intriguing, but this fizzles out without ever developing into anything. My main problem, however, is that I fail to see the point of all the descriptions of the artefacts - I kept expecting them to appear in the present-day narrative, or at least to have some relevance to it, but other than a throw-away mention at the end they're never brought into play. Weird.

The parts of the story set in the past are well written but unsatisfying and disjointed. The tenuous connection running through them is not enough - there are just too many characters who come on-stage and then disappear. The reader never gets the chance to know any of them well enough to care what happens to them or even remember them. They all kind of merge together after a while.

To be honest the plot was a real mess. The writing was good though - hence the two stars.
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on 27 January 2011
Jon Fasman's first novel promised so much during the first two thirds. It was erudite and gripping through its simple plot. Much along the same lines as that over-trumpeted `The Rule of Four' where that sailed off into intellectual posturizing this kept neat and tidy plot lines, smooth charcterisation and understandable curiosity throughout its pages. It was a pity it ended with a whimper rather than a bang.
There is a single plot here, set in present day America that takes frequent stops (fifteen in all) to delve back into the past to explain the events surrounding the theft of fifteen objects from the geographer al-Idrisi of the court of King Roger of Sicily in 1154 and their last known whereabouts. These anecdotes all provide the immediate thrill of mystery as the objects last known owners meet an untimely end. In the meantime, we follow laconic Paul Tomm, recent graduate of Wickenden University and investigative reporter for the sleepy publication `Lincoln Carrier' as his interest is piqued and encouraged by his editor, Art Rolen, to follow the mysterious murder of the non-salaried and gun-toting Baltic history professor, Jaan Puhapev. During his small town travels he meets and falls for Hannah Rowe and then ends up investigating the subsequent death of `Panda', Dr Sunathipala.
The problem with the novel is that it needs a sense of the threatening to make it good and it just doesn't happen. From the run in with Eddie the Albanian to his fight with Puhapev's `brother' you get a sense of `it'll be alright on the night' rather than a creeping sense of fear that should pervade our hero's reactions. It's all so muted and is the key to reader dissatisfaction. By the end we've sat down with Tom as he's told a fantastical tale that links alchemy with immortality, accepts it all and just walks off to carry on his life. Utterly anti-climatic.
I believe Fasman has talent as two-thirds of this novel promised but there needs to be a climatic ending, not a damp squib in order to make the reader want to return to his efforts. I'll read his next effort and hopefully the tale will capitalise on such a promising beginning.
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on 15 August 2006
Having read so many good reviews about this book I have now read it and have come out rather disappointed. I disagree with the current notion to compare almost any book with a historical twist to the Da Vinci code, - however I did expect suspense which just never happened.

The language is beautiful and in that it is a very good book, however in my opinion Fasman does not build the storyline to be thrilling at all; he should have just written a novel without the unnecessary Dan Brown historical detective twist, as he is undoubtedly a good writer.

Leave the "twists in plot" to those who do it well, as the last chapter unfortunately left me very deflated with an "is that it? I mean, really?".
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 March 2010
Like some of the previous reviewers, I was a little disappointed by the ending of the book. But just a "little". I'm not sure how else Fasman would have ended it, though.

One thing this book is NOT is the DaVinci Code. I was one of the (seemingly) few readers who hated the "Code", and, in fact, quit reading after about 50 pages. While the subject matter was very interesting, the writing was so terrible, I couldn't imagine wasting amy more time on it.

This book, however, is very well written. It does NOT read like an upcoming "film script". The characters were well-drawn and the plot interesting. Unlike the reviewer who found the descriptions of the stolen items "boring", I found them quite interesting.

I just sort of wish Fasman would have tied them up a little better in the end. My only complaint.

I just ordered the book on CD; that's how much I liked this "4 and a half"!
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on 24 June 2007
I was overwhelmed with admiration for this writer and enjoyed every page. Paul Tomm is an unusual "hero", I found him very believable and human. The Persian connection added, for me, an extra layer of mystery, casting doubt on Professor Jadid's intentions. The description of gruesome ends made me gasp a bit. I read a copy of this book from the library but intend now to buy it for myself and also one for my daughter-in-law.I was sad when I reached the end, because there was no more to read, but not disappointed. Life is never neatly parcelled up and the conclusion of this book echoes that. I anticipate much enjoyment from subsequent work from this writer.
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