Author: Tom Harper, 2013
Genre: Historical Mystery. Conspiracy Thriller. Dual Time Period. Myth and Legend.
Other Details: Hardback. 488 pages.
2500 years ago, the philosopher Plato travelled to Italy on the trail of an ancient mystery – a riddle written in gold, pointing the way to an unimaginable truth. What he found changed him forever, and set him on the path to becoming the founding thinker of western civilisation. Today, twelve golden tablets sit in museums around the world, each created by unknown hands and buried in ancient times, each providing the dead with the route to the afterlife. And archaeologist Lily Barnes, working on a dig in southern Italy, has just found another. And then Lily vanishes.
Has she walked out of her job, her marriage and her life? Her husband, Jonah, refuses to believe it. But no one can help him: not the police; not the secretive foundation that sponsored her dig; not even their circle of university friends who seem to know more than they’re saying. All Jonah has is belief, and a determination to do whatever it takes to get Lily back. But like Plato before him, Jonah will discover the journey ahead is mysterious and dark and fraught with danger. - synopsis from author's website.
This novel combines parallel tales of two quests: Plato, still coming to terms with the death of his mentor Socrates, travels to Italy to search of his friend Agathon and a mysterious book and Jonah's modern day search for Lily. The novel also incorporates aspects of the mythological tale of the musician Orpheus and his descent to Hades in search of his wife Eurydice and the Eleusinian and Orphic Mysteries of the ancient world.
I found this an excellent historical conspiracy thriller incorporating a fictionalised account of Plato's journey to Italy alongside the modern day mystery. Harper confidently brought into the mix philosophy and musings on the soul's after life journey. There were some notable resonances between modern day Jonah, a rock musician, and his wife, Lily, to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice including a deadly encounter with a snake.
I felt that Tom Harper handled the dual time periods with skill, dove-tailing them in certain places. I also appreciated that Harper showed restraint in terms of the action, making it more believable. This was a novel that proved for me to be absorbing, entertaining and thought-provoking.
Tom Harper's web page on 'The Orpheus Descent' - contains some background information and first chapter.