Monthly Archives: December 2014

Book Review: La Biblioteca Perduta dell’Alchimista

La biblioteca perduta dell'alchimista (Trilogia del mercante di Reliquie, #2)La biblioteca perduta dell’alchimista by Marcello Simoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second in the trilogy featuring Ignazio di Toledo, a merchant whose only religion is the acquisition of knowledge. Ignazio lives in the beginning of the 13th century when knowledge is considered not only often dangerous but often heretical. Nevertheless, he has a reputation for finding, collecting and selling rare books, often written by the Arabs, and often dealing with alchemy. His vast travels through the Occident and the Orient have won him a reputation for being able to solve arcane mysteries.

The story begins as Ferdinand III of Spain charges Ignazio to find and liberate his cousin, Blanche de Castille, regent of France and mother Louis IX, who was kidnapped and is supposedly kept in a mysterious castle called Airagne. Along the way he is charged with finding an important philosophy text that may be the key to solving the mystery of the Count of Nigredo, involved in Blanche’s kidnapping.

Simoni is a great storyteller, more akin to Agatha Christie than Umberto Eco, although there are similarities to Name of the Rose, specifically its Medieval setting, and the erudite main character. The story is steeped in the history of the time, the protagonists are fallible heroes, the villains appropriately traitorous and villainous, and the surprising twist at the end makes this book a particularly satisfying read.

Note: Although I started with the second book in the trilogy, the books can be read out of sequence.

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Book Review: Knots and Crosses

Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus, #1)Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had not read Ian Rankin before, so decided to start with his first Inspector Rebus mystery.

The novel was first published in 1987 and it’s a bit of a shock to read a modern story that has no computers, no Internet, no cell phones, or any of the communications devices we use today. It makes for a much slower story.

Rebus is an Edinburgh police inspector struggling with what we would call today PTSD, a failed marriage, and keeping touch with a daughter he barely knows. We get to see the seedier side of the city where alcohol, drugs, and thieves flourish.

The story starts with the abduction and subsequent murder of two teenage girls and leads us into a search for the identity of the killer.

Rankin draws a portrait of a man who is fumbling through life and his job. The story is more about how he can continue to function day after day without breaking down than about his abilities as a policeman and how he solves the murders. It is disconcerting and defies expectations, while at the same time somewhat disappointing. The prose is strong if not elegant, but I found it a slow read, which is unusual in a mystery.

Rankin’s first book was a good enough read for me to try his second, but not enough to rave about it.

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