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The Tavernier Stones: A Novel Paperback – May 8, 2010
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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)
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"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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Parrish incorporates an impressive depth of knowledge about cartography, cryptology, gemstones, and history, and his technical command of these details lends a precious believability to the hunt that is foundational to the book's success. While tension-filled and plenty thrilling, the action never veers off into the realm of the cartoonish, as Parrish grounds us so believably in his world of maps, codes, Amish culture, German lore, and, of course, precious jewels. I love a book where I learn as much as I'm entertained. Especially when the subject matter is as rich as this.
But none of that stuff would mean much without characters that live and breathe on the page. And live they do. Amish-born cartographer John Graf's struggle between the religious and familial roots he's severed and the worldly quest which becomes his obsession serves as the heart of this novel, and is deftly handled by the author. I was really invested in this character, and was pleasantly and poignantly surprised by where Parrish takes him. While his relationship of necessity with jewel thief David Freeman and his girlfriend, Sarah Sainte-James, crackles with a wit and spark that keeps the pages turning.
To sum up, I tore through THE TAVERNIER STONES in a couple days. And I guess that's the best recommendation of all. Parrish is the real deal.
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.
The Tavernier Stones provides a similarly fun read but is well written and well researched and has more interesting characters. There are a treasure map with a secret code in it, priceless gems, and hidden rooms.
I had to stop reading The Tavernier Stones before bed at night because I kept staying up too late, wanting to finish "just one more chapter" and then another, and another.
My one quibble with this book is that the female characters were not as well drawn as the male characters. I would have liked a female character I could have sympathized with.