Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
Time warps and parallel universes are in vogue. The Orpheus Descent goes to extremes with Jonah, a 21st century guitarist, seeking his missing archaeologist wife, a mission juxtaposed with Plato’s search for his beloved friend 2500 years ago. One follows the trail from a basement flat in London, the other from Athens, and they converge on the slopes of Etna in Sicily.
The book opens with Plato being speeded on his journey by his brother but just as you’ve surrendered to the lure of Ancient Greece, with a turn of the page you’re in modern Berlin at the close of a tour by a rock band – and then to Italy and Jonah’s wife, Lily, in a laboratory at dead of night studying a gold tablet under a microscope. And at that moment a car pulls up outside…
Shortly we are back with Plato on his ship heading for rocks, literally and metaphorically. And so it goes on: two stories, each with its cast of characters revolving round the principle players, Jonah and Plato, seeking their loved ones, who have in ways not dissimilar, been transported to an underworld. For this is Sicily, stronghold of the Mafia, also home to a bored billionaire who would give anything to possess the golden tablet which, for this superstitious Croesus, represents Truth and Immortality. It’s fiction. Take it in trust.
Colourful events alternate with cliff hangers. There’s a riot in modern Athens that degenerates to a bloody massacre. There’s some pretty good ancient sex, exciting without resort to pornography, unworldly, but then the lady concerned could be immortal.
Stick with it for all its 488 pages. If you skim the padding you won’t miss much by focussing on plots where philosophers are earthy and rock stars have depth. On the other hand the novel in toto has appeal for an age group that favours its action laced with drugs and dreams and long discussions on the meaning of life.
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