21 October 2010

Voltaire's Calligrapher; Pablo de Santis

Voltaire's CalligrapherVoltaire's Calligrapher by Pablo de Santis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd enjoyed The Paris Enigma, so when I was asked if I wanted to read/review Voltaire's Calligrapher, I said "yes". I'm so glad I did!

Historical fiction is tricky at best, particularly if you start inserting real people and events into the plot. Our hero, one M. Dalessius, is an orphan who has not quite been taken in by his uncle, the marachel Dalessius. His uncle created the Night Mail, a nighttime coach with the dead as passengers, and thus has some influence. He secures his nephew a place at the most prominent school for calligraphers, and expects him to make his way thereafter. After a "mistake" transcribing a court decree with disappearing ink, Dalessius accepts a position with Voltaire.

After a slight mishap, Voltaire sends Dalessius to Tolouse, where he (Voltaire) is interested in the facts of the Calas case; while there we meet Koln, the executioner. Later, we're in Paris where Voltaire is again agitating against the Church. Calligraphy, automatons, the jockeying for power between the Dominicans and the Jesuits, and a beautiful girl, Clarissa, who is included to go completely immobile complicate Dalessius' mission.

There's no happy ending, rather it's man looking back on a period of time in his life when he was in love and in danger. I liked that the historical events are inserted in a way that implies that of course you, the reader, know all about them (I didn't - I actually looked up some of the references to see if they were real or fiction). That sparseness is a wonderful device in a mystery/thriller of this type.

As this is a translated work, I don't know if the different in tone and the deftness of the prose are the work of the author or the translator. No matter which, this was a better read than his previous book (although I do recommend that as well).

Copy provided by publisher.

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