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Ooh la la, a painting by numbers retread of The Da Vinci Code

November 16, 2011

RAPHAEL Cardetti’s Death in the Latin Quarter comes with the Literary Review’s recommendation that it’s ‘an original and fascinating treasure hunt tale.’

Well it would be if it wasn’t a Paris-based race for a legendary, perhaps fictional, artifact which may implicate the Catholic church in a centuries old conspiracy. It would also be original if wasn’t a tale which sees the artifact being sought for by a gaggle of academics and art historians working for, and against, a shadowy organisation which uses a maximum security Bond-style installation and  at least one enigmatic psychopath.

Despite a lot of interesting supplementary Renaissance art history, and a nice portrait of academic life in France’s grande école, the Sorbonne, it really has the strongest of whiffs of a blockbuster we all have some knowledge of.

At this stage can I say:  Thanks but no T. Hanks? 

Paris is an evocative backdrop to a tale which sees beautiful but disgraced art restorer Valentine Savi, (she could look a lot like, say, ooh, Audrey Tatou), get caught up in an international art conspiracy involving a 13ht Century illuminated manuscript containing a code which may prove the existence of a 13th Century heretic, Vasalis. A PhD student,  David Scotto, with no prior history of daring-do, joins in after his supervisor falls from his Sorbonne office window. The two come together in the most ridiculous manner imaginable.

Chases happen, beautiful secretaries turn into sexy gun toting security operatives and there is a shady British bookseller, who although pivotal to the plot, plays no meaningful role as a character.

There may not be any killer albino monks flagellating themselves, but it’s pretty clear that Cardetti has stepped out of the swirling dry ice and said: ‘Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be the Waitrose Dan Brown.

Cardetti, a professor of Italian Renaissance history, really does follow The Da Vinci Code template slavishly, lunging from one cinematic set piece to another, with countless characters offering knuckle gnawingly dreadful plot exposition in between. This may be the book’s worst failing. So much is explained in speech that you can but think of Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers movies.

It is also embarrassingly littered with, what Tom Wolfe describes as, status details. All the women are beautiful, wearing Dior or perfectly cut suits. Scotto, despite being a schlubby PhD student lacking any kind of dynamism, wears a designer suit to a set piece plot device for no reason at all. Sorel, the conventional psychopath on which tales like this turn, internally ruminates on the beauty of an Israeli gun.

There are a number of plot contrivances that make Scoobie Doo appear like an episode of The Wire, and it all ends up where you would expect it to. No surprises, although, the last chapter is an hilarious example of Basil Exposition at its finest.

At the heels of the hunt, it is convincing characterisation that separates great detective fiction from the simply well plotted. Great detective fiction comes, mostly, in series where the reader invests emotional attachment in characters they either love or are engaged with. Unfortunately for Cardetti, there’s not a character with sufficient emotional depth here that I’m in a rush to read about again.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 16, 2011 2:13 pm

    I’ll stick to my Tom Clancy & Lee Child books, at least I know they’ll be formulaic.

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