The Tower by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

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The Tower by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: The Tower is a pretty awful book and not up to the standards of Manfredi's enjoyable historical fiction. Unless you are a die-hard fan of this genre, you should probably stay away.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 288 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 1405052015

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Valerio Massimo Manfredi is very popular in Hollywood at the moment. His fall of the Roman Empire epic, The Last Legion, has been filmed by Baz Luhrman and is out next year. We can expect to see big screen adaptations of Empire of the Dragons and probably the Alexander trilogy too. I rather enjoyed the Alexander books. They are large but light, busy but clear, and make for some great escapist fiction with no strings attached. My son absolutely loved them. We were looking forward to reading The Tower.

An American scholar and archaeologist, Desmond Garrett, disappeared in the Sahara desert some ten years before the start of the book, which is set in the 1930s. Garrett's disappearance was the most recent in a series of mysterious incidents in the area over the preceding two thousand years. Entire units of soldiers have disappeared, murdered, it is said, by the Blemmyae, a mythological race of headless men.

Garrett was searching for the Tower of Solitude, the final mystery of a past civilisation. Garrett's son, Philip, is searching for his father, armed only with abstruse clues left by the scholar as scribbled notes in a book. Also searching for Garrett is his arch enemy, the evil Selznick. In Vatican City, concerned priests are monitoring a signal coming from space and must find its receiver at all costs. It seems that the receiver and the Tower of Solitude are one and the same.

So, we have a mixture of Indiana Jones and the Da Vinci Code. You couldn't get more populist than that. Man searches for long lost father through inhospitable terrain and must reach him before the big baddie does. Catholic priests keep secrets from their congregations lest their faith be challenged. Everyone has an agenda. If only it had been kept that simple. It's quite clear that Manfredi is a better writer than Dan Brown, even in translation - and this translation is pretty good.

But it hasn't been kept that simple. Add into the mix the French Foreign Legion, an accident of birth, a spy network, a past love triangle, a present love triangle, a lost people, a desert princess (who, of course, has magnificent breasts), love at first sight, hopeless love, kidnap, a mad queen, lots of improbable fighting, some horrendously cringe-making sex... and oh, the list goes on and on and on. Manfredi, it seems, has flung at his story every single idea he, or any other author of populist fiction, has ever had. And if that weren't enough, he seems to lose interest in the final stages of the book and it all ends with a big ol' fight and conflagration, but very little denouement. I really didn't feel any the wiser by the end of The Tower than I did at the beginning. And I certainly didn't feel as though the characters had got any wiser either.

It's better than the Da Vinci Code. That's the best I can say for The Tower, I'm afraid. If you like action-based historical fiction, if you are fan of Bernard Cornwell and his ilk, you will like Manfredi's books. Look them out. Just not this one.

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Magda said:

I read something of his (Greece, Colonels, curse from the ancient times) and it was *really* bad. It was worse than Da Vinci Code, definitely. Maybe he does better with books set strictly in historical times?

Jill replied:

Yes, probably. The Alexander trilogy is light, but enjoyable.