A group of scientists try to manipulate time and space, with deadly and far-reaching results.
The story spans 20-plus years, from 1992 Milan to 2015 Madrid, where physics professor Elisa Robledo teaches string theory (the conceptual challenge to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity positing nine additional spatial dimensions) and is an enigma to all around her. She seems to have no romantic partner, no friends and never loses her calm or has a hair out of place. Abruptly, a cryptic message (at first unexplained to the reader) fills her with terror and a belief in her own imminent death. The story flashes back a decade, when Elisa was an ambitious college student. She becomes the protégée of brilliant professor David Blanes and, presumably because of her beauty, attracts the attention of a loopy scientist named Maldonado. These three and a handful of others undertake a secret project dubbed “Zig Zag,” attempting to tweak string theory and, by extension, the parameters of space and time. (In the novel, the roots of this experimentation go back more than a decade, to Italy.) Chapters alternate between the work done for the Zig Zag project in 2005—complete with charts and graphs and theoretical discussions: “History is what happened already, but the past is still taking place”—and present problems menacing Elisa and her associates. These include shadowy figures, mysterious phone calls and, worst of all, the deaths of several others who worked on the project. Elisa appeals to her colleague, esteemed science professor Víctor Lopera, to help her learn the truth. Can she avoid becoming the next victim?
As in previous novels, Somoza (The Art of Murder, 2006, etc.) tweaks literary conventions and metaphysical matters as much as scientific theories. The suspense and thrills he creates are deliciously intellectual rather than visceral.