The Geographer's Library -- Jon Fasman

I thought of Myst as I read the first page of this novel:

Dear H:

I thought you would be dead by now.  Certainly I never expected to hear from you again.  And maybe I haven't: the handwriting looks familiar, but forgery would probably be among the mildest of your new friends' skills.  But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.  Unwarranted assumption seems a fitting way to pay you tribute.

Enclosed you'll find what you asked for: "A full and objective account of our time together."  You told me it wasn't for you alone, but even if it were, I doubt I could've written in differently: you couldn't have been "you" here, even if I had wanted you to be.  And however much I wanted to keep silent and ignore your request, I found I couldn't.  Anyway, I wasn't doing much else.  I've been holed up here for longer than I knew you, and however shaken I remain (and will, at least for a little while longer), your face is already growing indistinct, and for that I'm grateful.

I worry about you, though.  I wish you a longer and happier life than I fear you'll have.


1154: Sicilian geographer/alchemist al-Idrisi leaves King Roger II's court to map the known world, never to return.  Shortly after his departure, a thief enters his home and steals fifteen artifacts.  Over the years, the artifacts are scattered throughout the world.

Present day:  Paul Tomm, 23-year-old journalist for the Lincoln Carrier, is assigned the obituary of a little-known local professor of Baltic history.  What begins as a routine investigation for a few inches of print quickly expands into the discovery of conspiracy, thievery, mysticism and murder. 

Fantastic.  I really liked the characters--the secondary ones more than Paul (he was kind of the "everyman" type)--it was well written, funny and smart.  The book is written in rotating chapters:  present day/Paul's investigation; past/history of an artifact; description of the artifact; present day/Paul's investigation; etc. 

You bounce around the globe and in time constantly.  Although the artifact history chapters are set in many different times and places, Paul's chapters are a constant--they keep the book grounded.  There are actually other constants, too, but I don't want to give anything away.  (It took me about three-quarters of the way through before I realized where the book was going).  You have to pay attention.  But it's worth it.