Learner, T S - 'The Map'
An Oxford classics scholar has discovered an ancient scroll that details, in 17th century Latin, the location of three labyrinths in Spain; the details of which will identify the location of a hidden treasure.
American August Winthrop was studying classics and oriental studies at Oxford in the 1930s when he had been persuaded by a Marxist sympathising friend that they should join the International Brigade and go to Spain in 1937 when the Spanish Civil War broke out. Following his support for the Spanish Republican army, he had fought in the Second World War behind enemy lines using his gift for languages on assignment for the OSS (forerunners of MI6). After the end of the war, he had continued his studies and now in 1953 had a studio flat in Kensington, London where one day a former comrade from his war time days in the French resistance, named Jimmy Van Peters looked him up. Jimmy was a lot older than August and a lifetime of cigarettes and booze had badly effected his health and he had only months to live. Jimmy passed over to August an ancient book in vellum with handmade parchment pages that he had brought from Spain. He wanted August to promise to return it to a family in a Basque region in Spain where it originated.
He explained that he was given the ancient book, because the family that owned it were fearful that it would be stolen and Jimmy was sent away as a messenger and when he returned he discovered that the people who had given it to him had been murdered. August said he would look after it and return it to the relatives of the people who had been killed, as Jimmy was fearful that he had been followed from the continent. That evening August started to look at it and discovered the beginning of a hidden message written in it in 1610, by Shimon an alchemist or early form of doctor describing his search for a "great treasure". Well, August was flat broke and was very intrigued by this message and decided that although it was very dangerous for him as a former member of the Spanish Republican Army, to travel to a Spain that was now under the rule of Franco, the risk could be worth it.
A couple of days before he goes he checks on the address that Jimmy Van Peters said he was staying and discovers his dead body there. This definitely spooks him and he leaves immediately for the continent. However, before he left whilst in a London nightspot he was picked up by this Russian girl, with whom he spent the night, and because of her, his former contacts in MI6 who were watching the girl, suspect that August is a double agent. So when he goes to the continent there are at least three lots of people shadowing him. As August is short of funds, he journeys across France by train, having many adventures on the way. He has a list of former Republican Army contacts, that he looks up for help and guidance on the way. The book continues on to its exciting conclusion.
This is the second "quest" historical mystery type novel written by this new but outstanding author who whilst born in England spends most of her time in Australia. The book is long but the story is very well researched with good period detail. I found it is such an exciting and absorbing novel that the pages just flew by. Thoroughly recommended.
Terry Halligan, England
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.