An Umberto Eco–lite literary mystery spanning continents and centuries.
A globe-straddling scientist with an eye for loot: check. An arcane trove that just may (or may not) force a revision of the way we think about things: check. This isn’t your grandpa’s Indiana Jones, though. Daitch (Paper Conspiracies, 2011, etc.) presents an intrepid protagonist of shifting identity—not a bad strategy to take when nefarious people are after the same thing he is, one made more urgent when the newspaper prints his obituary, leaving it to him to decide “whether the risks of reinventing myself are life shattering or way more inconsequential than you think.” Smart, though a bit of a schmo, working with a trove of ancient documents that have come to him as if by fate, he begins to reconstruct the ancient civilization of Suolucidir—and that, in turn, draws in other stories by other seekers, a whole swirl of yarns, some shaggy dog (“Antonov believes that Suolucidir was a center for ancient pornography”) and some more or less straightforward (“Though Ryder wasn’t ordinarily a superstitious man, the plates’ proximity to the beheaded skeleton made him leery of keeping them in his possession”). That the whole thing is a sendup is evident when you turn the word of the ancient place around, and in the end, that effort seems curious; the story plays straight just as well as it does with its postmodern flourishes. Slow to unfold, it has the self-satisfied air of the postmodern as well, though the broad range of allusions and references is entertaining to behold—on one page Krazy Kat, on another Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill, and the shah of Iran. And you have to give points to any yarn with a character named Shuki Fingers Feigen.
An inventive concoction but a middling book; though without the grating ineptitude of Dan Brown, also without the charm of a Stanislaw Lem or Jorge Luis Borges.