"Item 1: An alembic is the top part of an apparatus used for distilling. This one is made of sturdy green glass, thirty-six centimeters tall, eighteen centimeters around at the widest point of its base. The top part of the vessel is narrow and fluted and turns sharply to the right; alembics are set over a still to collect and carry vapors to another vessel. The vessel's inside bears a crust of gray material that seems to be a mixture of lead, iron, and antimony, as well as some organic matter, canine and human bones. Scorch marks are visible on the outside bottom, extending five centimeters up. No discernible odor.
Date of manufacture: unknown. Estimates range from 100 b.c. to a.d. 300
Place of origin: Hellenistic Egypt. "Alembic" comes from the Arabic "al-anbiq," which comes from the Greek "ambix," meaning cup or beaker
Last known owner: Woldemar Löwendahl, Danish-Estonian governor general of Tallinn. The alembic was unearthed during the construction of Kassari chapel on Kassari Island in April 1723 and brought to Löwendahl's office that June. The governor general placed it on the top shelf of an unfilled bookcase in the back corner of his office and never noticed when it went missing two years, six months, and seventeen days later...
When a twelfth-century Sicilian cat burglar snatches a sack of artifacts from the king's geographer's library, the tools and talismans of transmutation-and eternal life-are soon scattered all over the world. Nine hundred years later, a young Connecticut reporter finds evidence that someone is collecting them again. In the process of investigating the suspicious death of a local professor, Paul Tomm finds the dead man's heavily fortified office stuffed with books on alchemy. The Geographer's Library entwines his contemporary reporting with a chain of ancient stories-within-the-story, tracking the last time each of the geographer's tools changed hands-some bought, some stolen, some killed for.
The Geographer's Library is an extraordinary debut, smart, stylishly written, and full of suspense. It tempts with the glitter of antiquities and hooks with a chilling plot. In this brilliant debut, competing visions of an obscure professor's life take a young reporter from a sleepy New England town to the heart of an international smuggling ring that may hold the secret to eternal life. "
While I enjoyed both the chapters concerning the reporter Paul Tomm and his quest to solve the murder of the professor and the ones concerning each object, the book didn't lead anywhere. Yes, there are answers, but there are also more questions. So, why a 3* rating? It was very well written with great historical detail and well-defined characters.
Date read: 3/13/2007
Book no.: 23
Rating: 3* = good
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Press
No. of pages: 384