Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review: The Antiquarian by Julian Sanchez


In this gripping historical thriller, the search for a mysterious and powerful object hidden in the heart of Barcelona leads to ambition, desire, love—and murder.

An intriguing letter from his adoptive father, Artur, turns novelist Enrique Alonso’s world upside down. Artur, a well-known antiquarian in Barcelona, reveals that he has discovered an ancient manuscript, but he feels uneasy, as though he’s in over his head. But before Artur can piece together the final part of the puzzle, he is attacked and murdered. Enrique rushes to Barcelona to investigate his father’s death and retrieve the book. His ex-wife, Bety, a philologist, comes to his aid and the two set about translating and deciphering the encrypted text. Written in Latin and Old Catalan, the manuscript holds the key to the location of a priceless object dating back to the Middle Ages, and a secret closely guarded by the Jewish community living in the city’s Gothic Quarter. When Enrique and Bety realize they are not the only ones following the trail, it becomes a race against time to find the mythical object that has the power to transform lives.

Barcelona eBooks/Open Road Media | November 20, 2012

My Review

3.5 Stars

Spanish novelist Julian Sanchez's The Antiquarian is an intriguing mystery set in modern day Barcelona.  At the heart of this story is an ancient manuscript included with an estate lot purchased by antiquarian Artur Aiguader, a manuscript that contains information about the origins and location of a powerful, mythical object.  When Artur is found murdered in his shop, there is little evidence to suggest why such a heinous crime was committed on a well-respected man like Artur.  Enrique Alonso, Artur's adopted son, receives a letter from his father posted shortly before his death.  While Artur recognized the historical value of the manuscript, his letter also revealed his misgivings about the information contained within it.  Thinking the manuscript could be the key to solving Artur's murder, Enrique decides to investigate his father's death himself and, with the help of his ex-wife Bety, attempt to uncover the mysterious object described in the manuscript.  But Enrique and Bety are not the only ones searching for the object, and these others will stop at nothing to find it.

One of this novel's greatest strengths is Julian Sanchez's lovely, descriptive prose.  Through this prose Sanchez is able to bring Barcelona and its antiquarian community vibrantly to life.  In this respect, this novel reminded me of another atmospheric novel set in Barcelona, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  Another strength is the characters, particularly Enrique and Bety, who are well-developed and sympathetic.  While the individual revealed as Artur's murderer will likely comes as no surprise to many readers, the novel's ultimate conclusion is nevertheless gripping and satisfying.  While an engaging novel overall, with a plot that moves at a relatively steady pace throughout most of the book, the story does get somewhat bogged down at about the half-way point by the inclusion of detailed accounts of the origins of both the ancient manuscript and the mysterious object it is concerned with.  Rather than enhance the main story line, this background interrupts the novel's flow and significantly slows the progression of the story.  While the inclusion of some of this background is necessary to the advancement of the plot, given the number of pages used to convey it, many of the important elements end up somewhat lost in the narrative.   When the focus of the book shifts back to Enrique and Bety's quest, the pace once again picks up.  

An overall enjoyable novel, The Antiquarian is recommended to readers who enjoy atmospheric mysteries and thrillers. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.