Thursday, August 26, 2010


Sarah Gumbley (pictured above right) is an Auckland based book reviewer, who reads a lot of literary fiction, biographies, and other non-fiction works, as well as enjoying some crime and thriler fiction. She has also reviewed for Good Reading, NZLawyer, and Scoop Review of Books in the past. Today, Sarah reviews DEATH IN THE LATIN QUARTER by Raphael Cardetti - "in Paris the magnificent tranquillity of the Sorbonne university is shattered by a death".

By Raphael Cardetti (Abacus, July 2010)

Reviewed by Sarah Gumbley

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Love it or hate it, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code spurred a flurry of crime fiction books based in the art world, all hoping to emulate its success. Cardetti, a French author, was no different with his debut novel, Death in the Latin Quarter. Like Brown’s bestseller, it wanders between the present day and events in ancient times, reveals sins of leaders in the Catholic Church and focuses on crimes involving precious artworks. Originally written in French, the English version has recently been released.

Set in Paris, Death in the Latin Quarter revolves around a mysterious book that would confirm the existence of Vasalis, a (fictional) monk from the time of (the real) Pope Clement IV. Vasalis was considered a heretic for his publishing of De forma mundi but had since faded into oblivion and become merely a myth. The hunt for evidence of Vasalis had taken place for decades, but four people in particular find their search comes with deadly consequences.

First there is the Professor, Albert Cadas at Sorbonne University in Paris. He had been there as long as anyone could remember, so it comes as a shock when one day he supposedly commits suicide by jumping out the window of his office. It is especially shocking to his student, David Scotto, under his guidance for his PHD, which was focused around Vasalis at his Professor’s insistence. But if he didn’t commit suicide, what happened to him? Scotto is determined to find out.

Then there’s Valentine Savi, once the Lourve’s top art restorer, she had since faded into oblivion since a scandal at her former workplace in 2007. At the time, she had been working on a Da Vinci sketch when she accidentally destroyed it, leaving not only the painting, but also her career in ruins. Since then she had worked in a tiny workshop restoring insignificant family paintings. Until one day, Elias Stern, the biggest name in the art world comes knocking on her workshop door asking her to come and work for him. He still believes she’s the best restorer around despite the scandal, and needs her help on an important project: he’s found a book that may just prove this mysterious Vasalis is real after all.

The author, Raphael Cardetti, knows his setting well. He is currently a Professor of Italian History at the Sorbonne University. Perhaps this is what has allowed him to write the setting and its characters with such ease. It is a reasonably enjoyable read and the translator has done an impressive job of maintaining the feel and piece of the story, which can so easily be lost. Towards the end of the story it does becomes somewhat of an unexpected and unrealistic blood bath. But personally, while overdone, I do find murders in the art world make a particularly interesting type of criminal activity.


So, what do you think of Sarah's review? Do you like the Guest Reviews addition to Crime Watch? Do you like the sound of DEATH IN THE LATIN QUARTER? Does crime and thriller fiction set in the art or university worlds appeal? Thoughts and comments welcome.

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