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Calderon, Emilio - 'The Creator's Map' (translated by Katherine Silver)
Paperback: 320 pages (Jan. 2009) Publisher: John Murray ISBN: 0719596505

THE CREATOR'S MAP by Spanish historian and author Emilo Calderon is the first of his works to be translated into English, and is an intriguing spy novel set primarily in Fascist Italy before and during World War Two.

The book begins shortly after the mysterious death of one of the main characters, Junio, who had left some documents to be read by the main protagonist, Jose Maria. The novel then segues back to the late 1930s, when the bulk of the book takes place. The hero, Jose Maria Hurtado, is an architect studying Fascist architecture in Italy, and is caught in Italy by the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. He lives with a group of Spanish refugees at the Spanish academy. Despite the topic of his studies, Jose Maria is politically largely apathetic, with no great love of Franco, unlike the majority of the other Spanish refugees. He is persuaded to work for an English spy organisation, "Smith" due to his romantic but largely unrequited interest in an idealist young Spanish woman, Montse, the seemingly demure daughter of a wealthy and staunchly Franco supporter, who is keen to help the British.

Jose Maria's and Montse's primary task is to report back to "Smith" about the actions of Junio, an aristocratic part Italian/part German army officer connected to the higher echelons of the Nazis, with particular reference to his dealings with Himmler and the Vatican to obtain the "Creator's Map" of the title. The Creator's Map is regarded as politically significant, as in backing up some of the barmier Nazi mystic theories, it could be seen as legitimising the claim to "Lebensraum" (living space) and Nazi aspirations to invade other European countries. As Junio is rather keen on the attractive Montse, who appears to reciprocate, it is a relatively easy task for Jose Maria and Montse to remain in close social contact with him.

THE CREATOR'S MAP is rather a curious mixture of spy thriller, romance, travelogue and conspiracy novel. Fortunately the "Creator's Map" document proves to be somewhat of a McGuffin, a device to bring together the various characters, so the reader does not have to devote too much attention to esoterica; despite the involvement of the Vatican and secret societies, this book does not aspire to be a 'Da Vinci Code' imitator. The depiction of the three main characters in the love triangle, Jose Maria, Montse and Junio and the complex ties that bind them works very well, and is the strongest and most convincing part of the novel, with a neat sting in the tail revealed at the end of the book. Other elements do not work quite as well; there are a few too many lingering views of the hills of Rome and visits to the famous churches and squares of Rome which do not really add authenticity to the book. The 1952 sections at the beginning and end are quite slight, with a rushed and perfunctory feel; the novel succeeds best as a love story set against the background of war with a focus on how deception in espionage can carry over to deception in personal life. Overall, THE CREATOR'S MAP is a good novel, which could have been excellent if the plot had been less complicated by distracting conspiracy elements.

Laura Root, England
May 2009

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 31/05/2009 08:27