From debut author Falcon comes a novel about an ancient musical manuscript and those who seek to decipher it.
When readers first meet Douglass Crenshaw, the middle-aged academic is down on his luck. Informed that he will shortly be terminated from his teaching position in the music history department at Northwestern University, he finds himself admitting, “At fifty-three my career is crawling to a pathetic end and no one cares.” All is not lost, though, as an old colleague, Fatima al-Salam of Trinity College, informs him of an intriguing manuscript that’s surfaced in Ireland. The Ballad of Light, as it’s known in its English translation, is a mixture of Spanish and Arabic text thought to be from 15th-century Islamic Spain. After word leaks of its existence, Fatima feels that she’s being watched closely; later, someone trashes her office, but why and who? Back in the year 66, the Judean Jacob ben Honi has deserted his high position with a Roman legion. Highly educated and agile in combat, he ventures to Jerusalem, where trouble is afoot. The destruction of that city is only a handful of years away, and the feared Sicarii, a new faction, causes a fair share of distress and bloodshed. How and when, engaged readers will wonder, will these two narratives collide, and what does it mean to the world at large? Mixing historical fiction with modern-day sleuthing, the book offers a great deal of information via its many characters. The supporting players are many and varied, including Crenshaw’s “confident but not arrogant” graduate assistant Lucy and the desert-hating Roman Marcus Trajan. Although the author’s overarching quest is very Indiana Jones–esque, the cantankerous, cellphone-disavowing professor is the anti–Harrison Ford. Dotted with scenes of library investigations (“Once in the Archives reading room, Lucy explains her needs to a skeptical librarian who reluctantly decides that she is not there to pillage the place”), the book seems intended for readers who can relate to a deep-seated excitement over archived materials.
A twisty thriller that
proves to be a wily, if textually dense, adventure.