It is the history that counts.
The Map Thief
The Map Thief by Heather Terrell is an academic mystery/thriller set around an ancient map that has been showing the way to the discoverers and explorers for centuries. Made by a Chinese cartographer, it is the first map to chart the globe, from Asia to Africa and America. The book is aimed at readers partial to thoroughly well researched historical fiction with a slant towards mystery and thrill.
The Map Thief, as the name suggests, is a chase after the invaluable map. An ancient map that is rediscovered at an archeological dig only to disappear almost immediately. Richard Tobias, an influential Republican politician hires Mara Coyne, an expert at rediscovering stolen art and advocating rightful ownership. Even as she senses Tobias deeper and dubious involvement, Mara wades through the murky world of stolen art and the reader is taken on a journey into the past – from the present day America, to the 15th century Portugal where Vasco Da Gama is setting out for his voyage to India and further to Beijing 1421 where cartographer Zheng is eagerly charting the globe.
The book is well researched and though map around which the story builds is fictional, the writer’s explanations make if perfectly plausible. It adds on the field of research based research mysteries and refers to the rich world of maps and map making which does not often feature in the popular texts. The story juggles through three eras and three countries/continents –China in Asia, Portugal in Europe and America. The narrative moves back and forth weaving the strands of the narrative.
The weakest point of The Map Thief is the narration itself. The story that is more told than shown falls flat for the reader despite having all the elements of an edge of the seat thriller. With the alternating time frames, there is the little emotional connection with the characters. Moreover, the narration often falls into the pitfall that every research based mystery encounters.Often the research takes over the storytelling and character development. That is where The Map Thief suffers. The research and history push the elements of plot and character to the back and the reader can neither partake in their excitement not feel the thrill though she remains engrossed in the historical facts revealed.
A good read if you interested in cartography and the historical tradition of map making.