Top critical review
Editor badly wanted
on 21 October 2013
This is not quite a bad book, but it's definitely not a good one. The basic plot is rooted in the civil politics of the city of Cologne in the thirteenth century. Although the famous cathedral (then under construction) and its architect get walk-on parts, they are not central to the tale. An itinerant petty thief witnesses one murder, and stumbles across a conspiracy to commit an even more significant one. So far so good; but whilst the conspirators themselves (a confusing and interchangeable bunch) are clearly bad guys, the target of their plot is an equally unsympathetic character, and the reader doesn't really care whether the plot succeeds or fails.
Interspersed with the tale of the thief, his unlikely allies and a cold-hearted assassin, there are several clunking historical lectures. Yes, the story needs to be set in context, but there are good ways and bad ways of doing this - and stopping the story for three or four pages to lecture the reader is not a good way. In fact this book cries out for an editor. Paring away the repetitions and the info-dumps would save a hundred pages and result in a tighter book.
The plotting stretches credulity to the limit, and some of the prose is rather clunking, too. It is not clear whether this is the fault of the author or the translator. Some anachronistic phrases creep in, too. Surely no-one in the thirteenth century said "We're up a creek without a paddle"? As for "Curiouser and curiouser" - this is ungrammatical English and should only be used by those ironically quoting Lewis Carroll; and certainly not in a book set in 1260.
A book to read and forget.