In the process of investigating the suspicious death of a local professor, Paul Tomm finds the dead man's heavily fortified office stuffed with books on alchemy. The Geographer's Library entwines his contemporary reporting with a chain of ancient stories-within-the-story, tracking the last time each of the geographer's tools changed hands; some bought, some stolen, some killed for.
The Geographer's Library is an extraordinary debut, smart, stylishly written, and full of suspense. It tempts with the glitter of antiquities and hooks with a chilling plot.
©2005 Jon Fasman; (P)2005 Penguin Audio and Books on Tape, Inc.
"One of the year's most literate and absorbing entertainments." (Kirkus Reviews)
The "Geographer's Library" is a historically rich debut mystery by Jon Fasman. Readers who enjoy esoteric historical mysteries will really enjoy Fasman's offering and find themselves hooked until the final secrets of the mystery are revealed.
Fasman lays out the story slowly and carefully. His writing is bright, colorful, and intelligent; and it is uniformly interesting in its details and gripping in the mystery that it weaves. The main narrative follows Paul Tomm, a young reporter working for a small-town newspaper. A college professor dies, and Tomm is assigned to write the obituary. Unsurprisingly, Tomm's assignment entails more work than a typical death notice. I will not reveal the details of Tomm's investigation, lest I give away the secrets of the mystery.
Tomm's first-person story alternates with chapters that comprise the contents of a "library" put together by a 12th century figure, nobly named Yussef Hadras ibn Azzam Abd Salih Jafar Khalid Idris. The library chapters detail various exotic objects that have a relation to the practice of alchemy. Each chapter tells a story about the object's origins and its current situation. It is clear that the library contents and Tomm's investigation are intriguing connected.
Fasman takes the reader to many sites around the world. It is a fascinating journey for the reader, involving numerous interesting characters and engrossing situations. The book is a sheer joy to read, not just to find out whodunit, but to enjoy the many stories within the main story. The journey to the end of the tale is as much fun as the tale itself.
In his review in the LA Times, Allen Kurzweil aptly says: "Alchemy, Fasman tells us more than once, is the science of transformation. Good fiction aspires to the same lofty goal, and it is achieved in 'The Geographer's Library,' a cabinet of wonders written by a novelist whose surname and sensibility fit comfortably on the shelf between Umberto Eco and John Fowles." I agree.
The two stories running at the same time was confusing at first. Once I was able to understand what it was all about, it was easier to listen to but it was still a trial. Scott Brick was wonderful as usual. I swear that man could read the phone book and he would hold my interest.
This book requires attentive listening as the story moves from present to past and most of the movement is not linear. Often, a past episode is developed in bits and pieces with portions of how it was resolved left out. The ending is not believeable given that the protagonist is a 23 year old journalist at a time when expose is the mantle of newspapers.
There's a way of embellishing a modern mystery with historical details that brings the mystery to life, but this work is not an example of it. This work alternates chapters of historical facts/fiction, overstuffed with proper nouns of multiple ancient and foreign languages to the point of pedantic padding that, at the time of the telling, is stilted, plodding and, finally, nothing but annoying and distracting. I found myself fast-forwarding past the relentless "art history" chapters to get to the "modern mystery" chapters without feeling that anything significant had been missed. But that is not to imply that the "modern mystery" is, itself, interesting. Such is not the case. Maybe an abridged version would have seemed less ponderous, but even the narrator could not imbue this one with anything resembling entertainment.
I had the rare opportunity to listen to this book at 2 sittings on long flights, and was really looking forward to it. I don't knoiw why I bothered to hear it to the end except that I had nothing else to do and am an eternal optimist, hoping the author would make something out of his wonderful idea for a novel. The characters aren't developed sufficiently to care about them, and the author drags out descriptions to the point of total boredom. The plot doesn't start to congeal until the last 2 discs, and by then, I didn't care. What a waste of prescious time.
Great book. Intriguing premise and well read. I wish the plot had been developed a little more because it became confusing at times. Really enjoyed it, I just wish there had been more of it.
Thought it would be similar to The Eight or Club Dumas but no such luck. Could not finish it as the plot thickened into a lump and splattered on a wall. This is one of those clunkers where the characters drive the narrative by announcing what they plan to do, if anything. Avoid this.
I loved this book. The characters were fascinating and even if the names are unfamiliar to the American ear, take a little time to get used to them and you won't be disappointed. This book is magic!
I have to say I looked forward to this one. I like these type of mysteries and I thought this one might be good. Saddly, I realized too late that Fasman never really had a story to tell. On the face of it, it sort of tells the story of a library's contents, which are good little vignettes. However, there are only the most superficial connections with the characters in the present day. I was not a fan of the Da Vinic Code but at least it had a plot; I really couldn't find one here. The descriptions of the items from the library seem to come out of nowhere. Also, the significance of the artifacts is not clear. Fasman had some interesting characters but I found myself feeling nothing for the "narrator" and couldn't have cared less if he died. When I read, or in this case listen, to a story, I want to be changed by the story and this story left me unaffected. In closing a real waste of time.
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