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The Tavernier Stones: A Novel Paperback – May 8, 2010
"Children of Blood and Bone"
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From Publishers Weekly
Parrish's debut, a Da Vinci Code satire, fails to make the most of its intriguing premise. When a bog man preserved in peat turns up near Hamburg, Germany, the police discover an enormous ruby clenched in his fist. Authorities identify him as Johannes Cellarius, a 17th-century cartographer, who was possibly done in with a pickaxe by a jealous husband. The really cold corpse inspires a global treasure hunt for the legendary Tavernier Stones, of which the ruby was part, lost by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605–1689) during his fabled seventh journey to the Orient. The last map Cellarius drew contains a clue composed of medieval runes. John Graf¸ an Amish cartographer, teams with David Freeman, a brilliant thief and gemologist, but more ruthless folks are also after the jewels. A gemologist and cartographer himself, Parrish slyly mixes fact and fancy as the progressively more silly action builds to an over-the-top climax. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"The author certainly knows his subject matter and relates it to historical fact. There should be something to appeal to readers of all persuasions."
--The Mystery Reader
"Parrish keeps the dialogue light, throws in more than a few witty scenes, and ties it all up in a neat and satisfying bundle at the end. What more could you want from a late summer read?"
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Stephen Parish, we're told is a gemologist and cartographer who lives in Germany. He combines deep knowledge of these three subject and of medieval cryptography to concoct a plot about some mysterious gems lost to history in several hundred years ago. The sudden discovery of the murdered corpse of a famous 17th century map maker in a bog outside Hamburg sets off a race to find these long lost jewels.
The race involves several shady characters and one worthy protagonist. This is John Graf, a lapsed member of the Amish turned cartographer. Others involved in the chase include a light-fingered jewel thief and his sexy girlfriend, a German policeman and a comically evil elderly German woman and her thuggish sidekick.
Deep knowledge is an excellent thing in academia but it can be a two-edged sword in fiction if the author gives into the temptation to tell the reader everything he (or she) knows about the given subject. Parish does fall prey to this temptation and I had to plow through many more pages than I would have liked explaining every facet of gemology and analysing the mechanics of obscure medieval codes and how they might be broken.
Another problem with knowing a lot about some things is that it draws attention to other subjects that the author clearly knows nothing at all about. In this case, his attempt to portray an editor of the Chicago Tribune chasing a "hot story" was comically inept.
I also have to say that the writing in this book was often deliriously clunky. Some examples: "Blumenthal's living room was a microcosm of her paradigm." Say what?
or: "Narrow row houses elbowed each other, each distractedly clutching its whining air conditioner like old women lugging noisy unwanted children on their hips." This is almost good -- but not quite.
This book could have used a skillful editor who could have pruned away some of the unwanted shrubbery that got in the way of the plot.
Despite these shortcomings, it was worth persisting with this book which did deliver a rousing finish.
Enter the modern cast of characters, which includes an Amish map maker, a former prostitute and a master thief in the main roles, and some lively and interesting others in secondary roles. One of my favorites is Frieda Blumenfeld, a crafty, elderly German who is reminiscent of a wicked witch from the Brothers Grimm. (I am sure this is not an accident.)
The plot is quite absorbing, although as some other reviewers have noted, it does move slowly in parts. However, if you enjoy cerebral mysteries, I think that you will enjoy The Tavernier Stones. Parrish includes a lot of interesting historical detail, not just about gemstones but about architecture, religion and sundry other topics, and overall offers readers a well-written tale of intrigue.
The critical question is, what is the true treasure? For some of those pursuing the Tavernier stones, it is the beauty of the gems; for others, it is the money to be derived from selling them; for still others, it may be vengeance, the pleasure of solving a puzzle, fame, or discovering one's place in the world.
This is a smart book, informative about gemology, wine making, cartography, cryptography, Anabaptist/Amish history and culture, European history, and a little about witchcraft and sleight of hand. The narrative goes slowly sometimes, with occasional redundancy in the detail-laden text, but the smooth storyteller's voice and ample worldbuilding kept me firmly in the story from beginning to end--with a pleasant twist at the climax when the stones were not found where I expected them to be.
Though I enjoyed the novel, I can't rank it among my all-time favorites. The many plot lines are ultimately resolved with no loose ends, but some of the means of tying them up rely too heavily on coincidence for my taste. In addition, the quotations from seventeenth-century documents are rendered with spelling, capitalization, and punctuation conventions that seem about a century too recent, perhaps to make them more accessible to modern readers. And the speech patterns of the main characters are too formal at times, indistinguishable from the narrator's voice. I also cannot truly like or sympathize with any of the characters: either they have quirks that are irritating or some aspect of their nature is implausible, serving only to drive the plot.
(Disclaimer: a complimentary copy was provided for review)