Solving the theft of a recently unearthed, pre-Columbian, Chinese map of the world calls for the highly specialized skills of a Manhattan lawyer and art historian.
The map, briefly studied before its disappearance, was a stunner. Ben Coleman, archaeologist on the dig near Xi’an where an interesting mummy was also discovered, saw enough to know that if the fabulously valuable scroll’s suspected antiquity can be verified, China will have bragging rights as discoverer of sea routes long claimed by Portugal. Ben’s financial backer Richard Tobias, a snooty archconservative political figure, has the megabucks at hand to engage Mara Coyne to recover the map. Mara is a lawyer who has carved out a niche for herself putting art objects back where they belong. Terrell (The Chrysalis, 2007) weaves Mara’s voyage of discovery into the history of Ma Zhi, cartographer to the legendary eunuch admiral Zheng He, and that of Portuguese sailor Antonio Coelho, an officer on Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India, packing hefty loads of history into her slightly rickety thriller framework. Moving quickly to identify the thief before the treasure makes it into the hands of some unscrupulous collector, Mara jets off to China where she uses her professional contacts to come up with the name of the criminal boss near Xi’an who can set her on the trail. Teaming up with the hunky Ben, Mara gets a lead that takes her first to Italy and then to Lisbon, where she has been told that a Senhor Dias is the man most likely to have gotten his hands on the map. There is much snooping around Portugal, and much of the snooping has more than a whiff of Nancy Drew, with hidden rooms and secret clues and a scary Chinese guy following them everywhere. The historical threads are less swoony, although mapmaker Zhi, whose voluntary castration made him eligible for Imperial service, does pine for his ladylove.
Tepid thrills, but interesting history and geography.