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Harper, Tom - 'The Book of Secrets'
Paperback: 592 pages (Aug. 2009) Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd ISBN: 0099545578

A woman goes missing in Germany, but just before she disappears she manages to send a message to her old boyfriend Nick in New York, who hears her scream over the internet, glimpses her assailants via the webcam, and finds two lines of text and a picture have been sent to him. It's the start of the trail to find Gillian and what happened to her. He goes to the museum where Gillian used to work, but finds that Gillian moved to Paris to work some time ago. There he meets Emily Sutherland, who seems to know something about the strange picture that Gillian sent him, and promises to look into it. Then, his flatmate Bret calls him up and tells him to get back to the flat quickly, as he has some news about Gillian, but to 'buzz' him before he comes in. Nick realises that this means using the webcam on his laptop to see Bret before he goes into the flat, and to his horror he has to watch Bret being threatened by a gunman, and then killed. Is this connected to Gillian's disappearance? Have Gillian's attackers already managed to track him down? The gunman escapes and Nick seems to be the prime suspect for the murder. He has to surrender his passport and promise not to leave town. But, luckily, he still has his old British passport, and soon leaves for Paris to pick up the trail of the missing Gillian. In the best of traditions, he has help from Emily who goes with him to help. They follow Gillian's trail, and have to stay one step ahead of their pursuers and try to find Gillian, if she is still alive.

Alongside the modern day story, and told in alternate chapters, is the story of a medieval man, his life from a young boy to adulthood, and his fascination with gold, printing and copying art and text and his desire to print multiple copies of books without mistakes. This is essentially the story of the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, but also of the printing of other strange, less 'godly' books printed around the same time, such as the 'book of secrets'. They are the sorts of books that the Catholic Church would rather keep hidden, or destroy altogether.

Nick is some sort of expert in piecing together shredded documents, using sophisticated computer algorithms, sometimes working for the FBI, and his skills come in handy when he has to piece together parts of a shredded book in his quest to find Gillian. To do so, he makes a nifty use of the internet to disguise his location, which involves playing in an adventure game, with his colleague across the pond, while he uses a back door entrance into his FBI account. Eventually, Nick and Emily have a showdown with the baddies. But as Nick lies there thinking at the end of the book that he's still not sure what he'd found, I'm afraid, neither are we! It doesn't appear to be a threat to the modern day church.

The gradual unravelling of the cryptic message in the picture sent by Gillian, and how Nick and Emily work together to search for Gillian and piece together the mystery are well plotted, and work well. The background story of the medieval printer is less entertaining, and sometimes distracts from the main plot. (I found myself skipping over these bits from time to time!) Overall the story is an entertaining and intriguing one, written a little more intelligently than similar novels, but not quite as gripping.

Michelle Peckham, England
August 2009

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 10/10/2010 09:50