"Item 9b: The Peacock's Tail, a brooch . . . Ten pieces of Baltic amber. . . each a different color (blood, cooling lava, late-August afternoon, Karelia, dead man's lips, January noon, wine, everything, nothing, God) . . ."
This is from Jon Fasman's novel "The Geographer's Library." It's a search novel along the lines of --yes--the "DaVinci Code" or "The Historian," except when we arrive on the scene, the mysterious local professor who has done most of the searching is found dead in his apartment, and Paul Tomm, a cub reporter on the small-town Lincoln, Massachusetts paper, has been given the task of writing his obituary.
The assembled items are part of an alchemists' formula for long life. Possessing even part of the whole extends life -- what would happen to the one who assembled them all? The delightful thing about this book is that the author manages to write all this convincingly, going back and forth between the creepy and unbelievable to the Tomm's very ordinary life (although his new girlfriend, the professor's neighbor, is pretty spooky.)
I want to know how the puzzle ends, and I definitely want to know Paul Tomm's fate. The real treat is Fasman's writing. He writes of mysterious things in matter of fact ways, and handles the quotidian equally well. His wit is dry, light, and laugh-out-loud funny, and at the same time, he maintains a suitable air of creepy mystery that convinces but doesn't go over the top. In looking for some short quotations to show off his style, I found whole pages I want to quote.
I will add some later, but for now, gotta go.
Read this book. Plot: four stars. Characters: four stars. Writing: five stars.