An English Candide wanders into 18th-century Lisbon. Complications ensue.
Voltaire’s hero had a sweet nature and kindly disposition, as well as a talent for getting into tight spots. Adam Hanaway, dubbed “Adam Runaway” early on, is a nice guy, too. His favorite book, Prince (The Great Circle, 1997) tells us, is Robinson Crusoe, and there’s a Crusoe-like quality to Adam, more or less marooned in Portugal after his father dies penniless and he’s sent off to earn a living in his uncle’s emporium. Soon Adam gets himself into trouble; he proves a social naïf among the dour English expatriates who come to tea, has an awkward run-in with a freed black whom he calls Wednesday, earns the dislike of his uncle’s closest assistant and butts heads with one Dom Jeronymo, who is in a position to make his life miserable. Indeed, Adam is positively dense at points, as when he decides to argue with Dom Jeronymo about “what sort of religion was being served by the excesses of the 'so-called Holy Office,’ ” that office being the seat of the Inquisition, with which the Dom is a familiar. Dom Jeronymo tries to inform Adam, ever so gently, that autos-da-fé are not really meant to kill people but to celebrate the return of sinners to the arms of the church. Unconvinced, Adam blithely goes about his rounds, not quite comprehending how his slight will affect the lives of those around him—including, by now, a lovely young lass called Maria Beatriz. Other lovely lasses introduce bits of intrigue into the stew, but it takes a worldly compatriot to set him up for a bigger fall. Some of Prince’s story can be seen coming from a long way away, but in general the tale carves an entertainingly twisty-and-turny path that plays on the foibles of youth and age and hints at some of the religious tensions that were tearing Europe apart at the dawn of the modern era—oh, and that features some nice swordplay, too.
Not especially profound, but a pleasing and well-written confection.