The Gaudi Key by Esteban Martin and Andreu Carranza

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The Gaudi Key by Esteban Martin and Andreu Carranza

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The world is under threat. The only clues are in the architecture of Gaudi, and the only person to interpret them is a young naïve woman with a mathematician boyfriend. Truly there is little hope – and you can read that last any way you wish.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 496 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0007281633

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If the truth be told, there should be nothing much wrong with Dan Brown books. Given an enthusiastic thriller engine, they should posit a huge, earth-shattering 'what if?' and swathe everything in coherent esoterica, and we should be left marvelling. Of course, it's always been the execution that has let Brown, and all of his copyists, down. I gave up on Dan Brown after the first one, which was flawed in so many ways; one of which was that he made obvious mistakes about his Spanish scenes, clearly never having researched them. And here, as an unrequested corrective to this, is a book from two Spanish authors that is clearly being published here as a Dan Brown type.

As a result we have secrets that can change the world, mystic religious touches, and the mysterious encoded right under our noses. Thus we have seven goodly knights, from the days way before Jesus, who have however picked up a Christian relic of great importance to guard. There are baddies whose sole aim is to put the kybosh on the goodly knights. And we also have a mathematician and his girlfriend, thrust into the middle of a race against time with no clue as to what they've let themselves in for.

And we have what was for me the unique selling point, that of Gaudi. This book wants us to believe the man that did so much to make Barcelona memorable was involved in the battle between good and evil, and that his life, odd-seeming death and even odder architectural output all had connections to the knights and their relic.

It certainly is a strange battle between good and evil. Are we supposed to be relieved that the only way to save the world is related by a dying, Alzheimer's-raddled old man, to his naïve young granddaughter? And the only way she can work out what she's supposed to do is through a series of either bizarrely testing or bizarrely obvious clues and riddles? Lord let us believe this is the fiction side to the book.

For the characters seldom rang true to life. I can't think Spaniards are ever this formulaic. They're introduced to us so bluntly. All the naifs are naïve, all the baddies are mask-wearing adherents to shady assignations. The descriptions of what these people are doing, how they're dying and where they're doing it are also quite bad. Show, not tell, is the rule, and it needed to be applied more often here – there's a sort of bludgeoning artlessness about it that made me cringe more than once.

Some of that might have been down to the translation, but I'm not sure. If you consider this book was Spanish for the Spaniards, and not written for instant, global gratification, there is a lot of it that dumbs down and recycles their recent history, and Gaudi, for the lower common denominators. So often any semblance of narrative drive and energy is replaced by the characters extemporising or extrapolating round their chosen specialist subject, whether it be the obvious, or the obviously unnecessary (mystic Japanese arts, and the two pages of fractal mathematics the research mustered up).

Now this is all not to say this book is hellishly bad. It could have been laughably awful – and it did get close when one of the characters actually said something along the lines of 'that can't be true, it would only work like that in a novel'. I didn't regret reading it so much as I regretted not having a CD-Rom companion, to prove all the details – the tortoise upwards – were true, or at least have google images to guide me round the Gaudi so welcomingly but unconvincingly included.

It was, however, a lot more miss than hit. To become a superlative airport thriller – surely the only kind worth considering? – it needed to be a lot cleverer; it never gave me the idea of a book with an artfulness or anything to best and surprise me. All I was left reading for was to find out the nature of the Relic – this hardened sceptic had long given up on what the Truth might have been, and how the authors would allow the ending to pan out.

I could, however, see myself giving the book three stars, with a generous tailwind caused by the memories of Barcelona it evoked, and for the sheer anthropological curiosity the whole thing serves up – a culture Dan Brown knew nothing about, trying its best to come up with their own Dan Brown. There is a grudging appeal to the mystery, too, but as I said at the beginning, this is only the last disappointment to come from this genre.

I must still thank Harper for the Bookbag's review copy.

For more books of this type, there is still time – just – to turn to The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott.

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