The height of mystery: The Tower by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (2006)

I found The Tower rather an odd book. I have previously seen Manfredi’s books on the shelves but have never felt sufficiently inspired to pick one up and read it, but I gathered he usually writes straight historical novels about the ancient world. When I picked this book off the library shelf and looked at the cover I would have been forgiven for thinking that this was more of the same. But the cover bears no relation to the story whatsoever. After a brief prologue featuring a Roman expeditionary force getting done in by mysterious forces in the Sahara desert, it’s set in the late 1920s or thereabouts. The protagonist, Garret, is the son of a currently missing Indiana Jones type archaeologist. He starts following clues left by his father trying to find out what has happened to him. These clues seem to initially lead to the Vatican where nobody is talking. So far so Dan Brown. This part of the novel was actually quite enjoyable, and the depiction of the search for the ancient mystery very plausible. The old enemy of the protagonist’s father, Selsnick, makes a good villain, and the idea of an ancient villa buried beneath Pompeii leaving wind chimes hanging to warn of future earthquakes was nicely done.

But then it started to fall apart. Manfredi seems to have had some idea of a chariots of the gods scenario, but it was never adequately realised (or perhaps the translation was so awful it didn’t come over properly), and it detracted from much of the latter part of the novel. Was it a thriller or a horror story? Who can say? There were certainly Lovecraftian overtones towards the end, but the ideas seemed all over the place.

When I put the book down having finished it, I was left none the wiser – there were an awful lot of loose ends not tied up, and the dénouement wasn’t worthy of the name. Sadly I can’t even say it’s worth a look.

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