In the Italian city of Ancona in 1464, Pope Pius II dies. His mostly loyal English servant Thomas Deerham uses this as an opportunity to abscond, stealing a valuable book and a possibly even more valuable new map of the world. Thomas sets off home for England, but along the way, in Paris, he prevents a friar from committing suicide. The friar is not what he seems; indeed, he is the louche poet François Villon. The pair travels to England together. When they are close to death from freezing and starvation, they are rescued by the mysterious Christian Rosenkreutz, who has pursued them for the map. With the map and with another stolen book, an undecipherable “Tome” known today as the Voynich Manuscript, they charter a ship for a voyage of exploration across the Atlantic.
This novel is a sequel to False Ambassadors, which I have not read, but I didn’t find that an impediment to understanding Mappamundi. I do believe that readers would have benefited from an Author’s Note describing the Voynich Manuscript, which is a real document, because the reason for bringing it in is not clear to those who haven’t heard of it. Christopher Harris appears to be committing an irritating tease over the Tome, and although the novel contains vivid descriptions of the unlovely Europe and England of 1464, it never seems to come to a point. It’s rather like expecting a sneeze that fails to arrive. Worth buying, though.