The Creator’s Map
The violent death of an aristocratic former Fascist and Nazi sympathiser in 1952 is the catalyst for this mystery story set among Spanish refugees living in Rome during the Civil War and World War II. The author has taken an actual archaeological find, a mysterious stone tablet unearthed in Bashkortostan, and woven an ingenious fiction around it. His novel is part romance, part espionage thriller and part esoteric mystery, which I am certain will make it a considerable commercial success.
I did not, however, find it a particularly enjoyable read. While the plot is nicely developed, the quality of the writing and characterisation leaves something to be desired. The style is an uneasy mix of travel guide, popular history and a kind of fastidious romantic mystery reminiscent (but not as good as) the stories of M. R. James. The characters, including the narrator, are ciphers – the solitary intellectual, the beautiful, feisty heroine, the benignly eccentric antiquarian bookseller, the Machiavellian bureaucrat, the fatally glamorous aristocrat etc. etc. They stage contrived conversations designed to leave the reader in no doubt that the author has done his research, on walks through Rome, for example, giving one another potted histories of its great landmarks which makes them sound more like tour guides than people living in the city and preoccupied with the many dangers and inconveniences of their refugee status and divided political loyalties.
An undemanding read for those planning a city break in Rome and probably the foundation of a Hollywood blockbuster. Not my cappuccino.