1. The Medusa Amulet
Robert Masello’s book fits well into the thriller-mystery path trodden by Steve Berry and Dan Brown. Those who love such stories will not be disappointed. Robert is always a good choice – what he is offering to the curious reader is an excellent mixture of history, adventure, mystery and excitement. As I have already got accustomed to it, he is able to combine historical eras with each other and the present in surprising ways. Two main threads run through the story in this novel as well. I find the presentation of old, renaissance Italy and its characteristic historic figures very vividly descriptive, very credible. I read about the life and works of the renaissance artist, Benvenuto Cellini, with delight. The background is the story of the jewel he created, that of the Medusa Amulet. The plot follows Cellini’s life story, how and why he created the amulet, for whom it was made. It is especially interesting what strange effect the amulet had on the life of the goldsmith who had made it and of those around him.
The event are made even more complicated by the fact that two amulets had been made, but only one of them possessed miraculous, magic powers. This part of the story was especially enchanting, exciting and full of surprises – it was a great experience to wander about in the age of the renaissance and get to know that milieu. It was these parts that I really loved. The characters are perfect, the story is interesting indeed. Masello mixes history, suspense, romance and supernatural powers in an excellent manner.
His way of writing is animated, daring and, at places, even audacious. Thanks to its style, the book’s 400 pages flew by with extraordinary rapidity. The other thread runs in the present, where David Franco, a young researcher starts chasing up the vanished, lost amulet. How and why it vanished should remain a mystery for now, but it is literally a matter of life and death for it to be found. This part of the story runs on a lot of investigation, research, even elements of crime, and is also made more colourful by a love thread. The work of the great master craftstman of renaissance Italy, Cellini, revives a tableau of life from the palaces along the Loire through to the momentous, dramatic events of the great French Revolution.
During a lot of intrigues and betrayals, a host of murderers are trying to hunt down the real amulet. Something is always happening, something unexpected always ensures tension at all locations. The writer has gathered a considerable amount of cultural, historical and political knowledge, which he passes on to his readers. We receive all kinds of special information about the relationship between the church and religion, and get an genuine insight into the respective ages. Of course there are a few foreseeable things, but they never made me feel like putting the book down.
How the Romanov Cross made it among my favorites was a fascinating, illuminating and captivating journey, so perhaps I am biased towards Masello’s books. This story is a perfect fit among his novels. It is based on a splendid idea, and results in an interesting and mystical tale. Adventure and history are perfectly mixed to captivate and fascinate the reader although it is sometimes flitting and digressing, or, on the other hand, is sometimes predictable. I particularly felt this along the David thread, therefore this does not rise above the average, but it is by all means good to immerse ourselves in, to get to know, the artist’s story. It was the thread in the past which has gripped and enchanted me, I was very impressed by those sections. Masello guides the reader through historical ages with sure hands.
The ending is quite surprising. If we are looking for fun and exciting adventures, I think the mysterious treasure hunt seasoned with actions will provide its readers with the perfect, relaxing distraction from their daily lives. I can wholeheartedly recommend this book.
2. Javier Sierra: Spanish king of mystical historical thrillers
The masterpiece of the author known as the Spanish king of mystical historical thrillers has been selected from among 634 submissions, a record number, by the panel of judges. 200 of the submitted books came from abroad. A special feature of the Planeta award is that each entry has to be submitted under an assumed name and with an assumed title, so the jury can only get to know the real person it awarded after the decision is taken. For the challenge, Javier Sierra used the pseudonym Victoria Goodman, who is also one of the key characters of the novel. The book’s title for the competition was The Artificial Mountain.
The main character of the story is David Salas, a professor of linguistics at Trinity College, Dublin, who thanks to an accidental meeting, is searching for traces of the Holy Grail in Madrid. In their appreciation review, the Planeta panel emphasized the author’s extraordinary erudition. The 46-year-old Javier Sierra is a real international success, during his career of about two decades, his books have already been translated into 40 languages. His 2006 novel The Secret Supper was in the top ten of The New York Times Best Seller list in 2014. The prize was founded by the publishing house Planeta in 1952. Next to the Nobel Prize, this prize awards the second largest amount of money in the world to the winner.
3. Dan Brown: Origin
Dan Brown could raise cities into the heaven of tourism. The writer of the Da Vinci Code could set new directions to the cultural tourist industry. The rabbi Jehuda Köves is dragging himself along Kazinczy street, panting in sweat. He felt a sharp pain in his side and his old bladder about to burst. I only need a toilet and a little rest, he thought, stopping in the crowd gathered in front of Szimpla, one of the largest and most famous Budapest ruin pubs. All of these can be read on the pages of Dan Brown’s new novel, Origin, which has just been published in Hungarian.
The book follows the usual scheme, with Robert Langdon, the Harvard researcher of symbols, is a given, who furiously persecutes his opponents, all of them communicating by means of symbols, across Europe. It is not only the above detail that is linked to the Hungarian capital: beforehand, we already got a picture postcard-like panorama of the Chain Bridge, the Castle, the Gresham Palace and the Parliament, too. What’s more, Budapest does not only serve as a mere lifeless background. As is expected of him, the writer introduces our places of interest with enthusiasm putting tourist guides to shame.
At the same time it is perhaps the Catalan capital that gets the most out of being in Origin. “You can now make yourself familiar with the stunning architecture of Barcelona from Dan Brown’s latest book, coming out in October this year (2017). Thanks to Dan Brown’s latest book, Barcelona’s sights will be even more famous worldwide. This is the best promotion anybody could provide for Barcelona’s history and culture.” This was how the Barcelona Home Guide had been luring prospective tourists long before Origin was published.
Those statements cannot be disputed. The books of the writer who rose to fame with his Da Vinci Code have since become an institution, and his fans dutifully storm buildings and historic places serving as backgrounds to his books. It is the dream of all the tourist office that Professor Robert Langdon, the main hero in Brown’s novels, comes to unravel, based on symbols, who is planning to unleash evil upon the world in what manner. So far, 200 million copies of the writer’s novels have been sold around the world and, with the appearance of each new episode, publicity is guaranteed.
When Brown travels up and down the world, his enthusiasts watch his every step because they suspect that he is sizing up the terrain for a new book. Clearly he is by far one of the most efficient advertising experts for tourism. The marketing effect of the appearance of the books is only surpassed by that of film adaptations not lagging far behind. The main character, played by Tom Hanks, can always see the most beautiful, perfectly illuminated facades of tourist attractions. Although internal shots are usually taken in a studio, like the scenes taking place in the Basilica Cistern of Istanbul, for example, were shot in Budapest, hosts provide all possible assistance imaginable for outside action.
With the exception of the Vatican, where Angels and Demons was banned from for its plot depicting them not in quite a positive way. The climax of the most recent episode, Inferno, played out in Istanbul. Relating to the presentation of the film, the President of the Turkish Hospitality Association could not suppress his enthusiasm – which is understandable since Turkish tourism has been suffering from a build-up of dictatorship following the terrorist attacks and other events of little known background but presented as an attempted coup d’état.
“The contribution of this film to helping people notice the historical monuments of Istanbul and Turkey is invaluable. The occupancy rate of hotels this year (2016) has fallen by approximately thirty per cent in Istanbul. It is tourist traffic from Europe in particular that has fallen. Therefore, we must utilise every opportunity to demonstrate that Istanbul is a safe target,” the Hürriyet Daily News quoted an expert. The attraction of the books for tourists is so strong that it is already called the Dan Brown-effect in the tourist industry. The locales of the books and films appearing every few years prepare themselves well in advance for the hoped-for crowds of thriller enthusiasts.
Last time Florence was the target, with Rome, Paris, London and the Rosslyn chapel in Scotland before that. It was the latter that got the greatest shock by the hype following The Da Vinci Code. The large European capitals are the main targets of tourism anyway but the small church near Edinburgh was hardly able to handle the crowds in search of the Sacred Grail surpassing four times the normal number of visitors. The turmoil soon grew so large that it became more and more disturbing, endangering the artistic values of the church, not to mention its previous quiet and intimacy. The managers raised their voices against the siege, though they sounded a bit hypocritical, given that the Scottish tourist office and the agency responsible for the maintenance of historic sites played a major role in whipping up the craze.
During the last one-and-a-half decades the Dan Brown tours have become customary in the large European tourist centres. There are lots of people who dislike this phenomenon (so do I, I must confess). This is because the slightly snobbish idea of refinement cannot accommodate the eventuality that it might feed on light-hearted, entertaining literature (also) read by the lower orders. And these tourists do not even try to conceal the fact that they tour those locales in a targeted fashion, hardly looking to the sides. However, literature-generated tourism did not begin with Brown at all. It was a certain William Shakespeare whose works began to attract tourists in the 18th century, even though it was rather the writer’s personality that captured the readers back in those days.
The “literary pilgrims”, as they were then called, visited the important scenes of his life, like his putative birth place in Stratford-upon-Avon and the Globe theatre. Tourism around fictional locations got a momentum a few decades later, when readers were trying to capture the romantic milieu of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters’ works via their personal presence. It was in particular the Lake District in North West England that profited a lot from this fashion, which was also helped by the large number of writers settling down in this area famous for its downs and enchanting lakes. The movement attracted so large crowds that soon an entire industry was built around it: literary guide books appeared, the settlements set up visible signs about the literary landmarks that could be seen there, and souvenir shops clearly targeting literature fans opened.
People are already beginning to guess where Dan Brown’s following novel will take place. He is aware of his importance (and of the resulting revenue) precisely. So he regularly leaks scraps of information to the press and his fans, who jump on them like hungry hunters. When, for example, he was promoting his books in Ireland, he did not fail to mention that the religious conflicts – and of course the architectural and natural environment – there would serve as a great background to a future book, the Irish Times has reported. But he drops similar compliments almost everywhere. One has to ponder whether he does this out of mere courtesy or as a business offer. Since the books bring in profits of millions or rather billions of dollars for the locales, regular speculation thrives about what exact viewpoints drive Brown to choose them.
To be sure, swarms of experts, surveyors, and data collectors work for him, who, like Robert Langdon, roam across Europe. The question is, however, whether these people only consider the aspects of the action when selecting the suitable cities, or may possibly also engage in business negotiations with local officials, who would like to bribe themselves into the following novel. It would not, of course, be in the interest of any of the parties to disclose any such eventuality. However, Dan Brown is perhaps the most important dime novelist of our age, who has a special gift for blending culture with crime. The market for historical thrillers is huge and there are plenty of books coming from the same mould, in the spitting image of each other. Even so, Brown has managed to stand out from among them, and this time public recognition is well deserved, since his abilities are undeniable. And, of course, it is not another Hungarian reference that the dictator general Franco’s personal symbol, the sign Victor, referring to the nationalist victory in the Spanish civil war, plays an important role.