A scholar doggedly pursues the true story behind one of the world’s most famous explorers.
A television journalist based in Portugal, dos Santos pours his storytelling experience into an intriguing if Byzantine exploration of codes, cultures and Christopher Columbus. Less a Brownian thriller than a speculative one, this debut novel focuses on its flawed protagonist and his dizzying search for the truth. Our sensible leading man, Thomas Noronha, is a professor of history and, naturally, an expert code-breaker, fluent in a handful of modern and ancient languages and possessing an innate ability to unlock complex ciphers. A basically decent guy, he struggles to balance his academic responsibilities with the considerable resources required by a distant wife and a daughter with Down syndrome. It proves a tempting distraction when the evasive Americas History Foundation offers a healthy sum to continue the work of a dead academic investigating the Age of Discovery’s most famous personage. The good professor is quickly off to Rio de Janeiro, where he finds an odd note from his predecessor, scribbled in a dead language, that warns of the perils of identity. Noronha makes for a beguiling hero, burdened by his family’s needs and tempted into an unwise affair with Lena, a student whose interests prove less than virtuous. Dos Santos layers in all the usual suspects, including the Knights Templar, Jewish mysticism and the Holy Grail, in speculating on the true identity, nationality and motives of Columbus. Readers more intrigued by academic detection than global conspiracies should eat this one up.
A fresh-thinking historical thriller buoyed by its hero, a man with a spinning moral compass trying to find his truth North.