It is 1888 and the World Fair is about to open in Barcelona. A lot depends on the Fair’s success, not least the wealth and reputation of one of its more sadistic contractors. But a murderer is stalking the streets and alleyways of the city, ripping apart the bodies of their victims, and there are rumours that the deaths are connected to an ancient curse, and that the killer is some kind of ferocious hellhound. Daniel Amat, who has returned to Barcelona following the suspicious death of his father, is convinced that his father’s demise is the key to the mystery. Even when the contractor and the shady Police Inspector try to scare him off, he refuses to give up his pursuit of justice. Teaming up with a down-on-his-luck journalist and a precocious medical student, Amat begins to suspect that the killings involve an undiscovered text by the great 16th-century anatomist Vesalius and that the killer is conducting Frankenstein-like experiments somewhere within the tunnels and sewers beneath the city. But there are so many suspects and so little time, and the killer has Amat and his new friends marked for death. How can you protect yourself from somebody who seems to wear every face, and is driven by a diabolical desire for revenge and an insane plan to resurrect the dead?
Don’t be put off by the number of pages in The Secret of Vesalius, or by the fact that it is billed as a ‘historical thriller’. It is a masterwork with the depth and complexity of a new Name of the Rose and, like Rose, it has a fabulous mystery at its heart which twists and turns and genuinely keeps the reader off-balance until the unexpected, but quite brilliant, final reveal. Yes, it is set 130 years in the past and it is teeming with that period’s atmosphere but, unlike many historically themed novels that often feel like the author is gloating “Look how much research I’ve done, how clever am I?”, the details never get in the way of telling the story, and Jordi Llobregat’s genius strategy of keeping his chapters short and ending almost every one with some form of addictive cliffhanger means that this quite intimidating brick of a book is one of the easiest, fastest, most entertaining reads of the year. More than that - there are so many strands to the tale that, when you finish the book and realise that Llobregat closed every strand in a meaningful way (and didn’t cheat on any of them) you’ll know you’ve been in the company of an author who is also a literary magician (which is also a credit to the book’s English translator, Thomas Bunstead). The Secret of Vesalius is thrilling, cinematic, hugely intelligent, and a massive amount of nasty fun. Just don’t start reading it in the evening, because you’ll still be happily reading when dawn breaks the following day. Definitely not lost in translation, this is an immediate classic.
THE SECRET OF VESALIUS / AUTHOR: JORDI LLOBREGAT / TRANSLATOR: THOMAS BUNSTEAD / PUBLISHER: RIVERRUN / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 16TH