In Minnesota, Arno Holmstrand, Professor of History, is shot dead at his desk, having managed to rip out and burn a few pages from a book. He leaves a trail of clues for Emily Weiss, his young colleague and Professor of History and Religion, which, should she take on the quest, might well lead her to the long lost Library of Alexandria and the Society that has protected it for centuries. Unfortunately, the Library is also in the sights of another ancient and secret group, the Council of Friends, and they are prepared to kill more than Holmstrand to recover antiquity’s lost secrets for its own goals. Their sights are set high and, as they move into position at the very top of American government, there is only one obstacle standing in their way – Emily Weiss, a young woman who learns with every stage of the journey the significance of her quest.
The Lost Library takes Emily and us on a journey across several continents. Leaving America she follows the clues across and between Oxford in England, Alexandria in Egypt and Istanbul in Turkey. Along the way she meets others who can provide her with little pieces of the puzzle as she uncovers the truth about the Library, her own role in its history and its impact on world affairs, past and present. Needlesstosay, it won’t always be pretty…
I am a big fan of quest thrillers. There are indeed some poor ones out there and it’s not long before you realise that they don’t deserve your time to read them. Others have a habit of getting under your skin and you can not put them down until you know the secret, have seen the baddies dismissed to their hell and know that some great good has been leashed on to a world that has had no idea how close it came to annihilation. I’m pleased to say that The Lost Library fell into that category. While, it didn’t fall into those high echelons of thriller novels near perfected by James Rollins, Andy McDermott, James Douglas and a few others, The Lost Library did its best to keep me awake at night, turning the pages.
The journey that Emily undergoes is arguably more thrilling that its goal but Emily is an interesting heroine. Flawed but intelligent and resourceful. She is as surprised as the rest of us to discover hidden wells of bravery and purpose. The baddies are suitably evil. They don’t fall into the territory of fairytale ogre. They’re slightly more believable than that and the motive of Friend Jason has an air of tragedy to it. Nevertheless, as with all such novels, you must suspend your sense of disbelief and enjoy the ride as you would a rollercoaster. Having said that, though, The Lost Library is more moderate than most.
As someone born and bred in Oxford, I did have some issues with the scenes set in my own hometown. There were simple errors that irritated me but few others would notice. I was bemused by the lack of drama that accompanied the destruction of one of Oxford’s oldest churches (this is no great spoiler, it happens in the opening pages), with characters allowed to pick over the wreckage and calmly have tea in the coffee shops down the same street. This did wrench me out of the novel for a while but the Oxford scenes aside I had no trouble blissfully enjoying the rest of the story and its settings.
A.M. Dean is, apparently, the pseudonym of a Professor of Theology, but he wears this scholarship lightly. What it does add, though, are lots of bits and pieces of fascinating details and I think these nuggets are major contributory factors to the success of the novel.
Chopping and changing between genres as I do, I always have a lot of time for fast and furious escapist reads. While not the best I’ve read this year, The Lost Library certainly did its job.