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Book Review: The Geographer’s Library by Jon Fasman

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The Geographer’s Library is a literary novel that borrows a lot of chops from the current suspense thriller field. Or maybe it’s a thriller that has an easy, literary approach to character and plot. As I was reading the book I couldn’t make up my mind.

As with a lot of novels coming out these days, the novel concerns a conspiracy and a lot of historical references. It also touches on one of the most talked about mystical items in human history. Even Harry Potter dealt with this object.

The book is Jon Fasman’s only novel so far, but from everything I’ve seen, he should have a long, comfortable career ahead of him. His down-home voice, imagery, research, and attention to detail will bring fans to his writing.

The story is a first-person narrative by a young reporter on a Connecticut paper. Paul Tomm basically intends for the job he’s currently working to be merely a steppingstone to bigger and better things for himself. His relationship with his editor and his wife is one of the highlights of the book. The way they acted around each other, the way the editor took a mentoring role, and the easy, natural dialogue was truly effective. It made me feel like I was peeking in at the newspaper that was probably put out in Mayberry. And that’s a positive thin.

Paul has to “create” news to a degree in the small town, but he doesn’t want to sensationalize anything. However, not everything in a small town is small, as Paul finds out. He’s assigned to do the obituary on a one of the local college professor and finds much more than he bargained for.

Professor Jann Puhapaev has a whole other life that no one in town knew about. When Paul goes to his house, he finds scores of books on all kinds of topics. The collection easily pushes past passion into the field of dark obsession. As Paul pokes around, he gets caught up in an obsession of his own. Who was Professor Puhapaev? And was someone out to kill him?

Following up on the story with his mentor’s blessing, Paul soon uncovers more than he can handle. The editor also calls in larger papers to back the story as Paul find out more of the truth and realizes that it’s an international story, complete with internationally scaled villains. The pathologist that the editor calls in to do a deeper autopsy on Puhapaev ends up dying in an accident. And things get weirder and more dangerous from there.

The novel divides up into two novels. One is Paul’s story of his investigation into the death, life, and passion of the professor. But the other is a collection of interesting accounts regarding 15 different items. These accounts are wonderfully written, filled with research and drawn in a deft narrative that is much different than Paul’s first-person account.

However, this division also works against the book. Every time I settled in for Paul’s story and would get hooked on the investigation, the next chapter would be about one of the mystery items. The writing style changed, as well as the focus of the story, and I’d become engrossed in that. Then it would end abruptly without any real connective tissue to tie it to the next chapter or even Paul’s story. It got frustrating to a degree because I constantly had to shift gears. It got easy to read only a chapter at a time before moving on to the next.

In the end, there is a grand conspiracy, but it plays out almost as a denouement as the book closes down. The book rewards the reader, but the reward is smaller than the reader would have hoped for. The driving action of the best adrenaline-laced thrillers is missing here. The story kind up bumps along to a finish that answers all the questions but lacks the real impetus for why all the questions were being asked in the first place.

Fasman has a lot of promise and undoubtedly a great career ahead of him. The Geographer’s Library is rough in places and creaks with the jamming together of the two sides of the story, but it’s plain Fasman has a lot of talent. When he gets his second book out, I’m going to pick up a copy.

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