Jon Fasman's debut novel, The Geographer's Library, is a literary adventure tale that will captivate its readers with a murder mystery interlaced with a fascinating insight into the history of alchemy and the pursuit of its treasures. (Alchemy is the study, the science, and the process of transformation. Deliberate transformation. Of anything into anything. This definition is important to understanding the nuances of the characters in the book.)
Paul Tomm, a reporter for a small paper in northwest Connecticut, has his interest piqued when, following the death of a Professor of Baltic History, information about the man's background seems remarkably difficult to obtain. Following a near-death experience himself, he learns more about the dead scholar and his obsession with obtaining the contents stolen from a geographer's library almost 900 years ago. The Geographer's Library is written as a first-person narrative of Paul.
The wonder, confusion, and fear experienced by Paul during his investigation is convincingly conveyed to the reader. At one point he states, "All this for what could have been an obit at the back of a newspaper that a few hundred people would have run their eyes over before throwing away ... But it had grown into something else, something that thrilled me even as it frightened me, made me feel that I had finally cracked through the pane of smudged glass, broken the surface of the sea. I finally felt like something other than an observer in my life."
This is an exceptionally well-written book. As good as Paul's account is, the 16 side stories in chapters alternating with the narrative, each representing an object stolen from the geographer's library, are absolutely riveting. Though having little to do directly with Paul's story itself, these mini-vignettes provide an intriguing glimpse into the history of alchemy and serve as the back story into the life, and ultimately death, of the mysterious professor.
Finally, The Geographer's Library ends with an interesting and unexpected twist that provides a very cogent conclusion to this exceptional book.