The Library of Shadows, by Mikkel Birkegaard



Translated by Tiina Nunnally

THE LIBRARY OF SHADOWS, a best-seller in Denmark, starts out promisingly when Jon, a young lawyer, defends his friend Mehmet against a charge of receiving stolen goods. Mehmet is an IT specialist but, due to racial prejudice, he can’t get a job in Copenhagen, so to make a living he spends his time doing competitions – which he usually wins because of his clever computer programming. The police are suspicious of Mehmet because his apartment is stacked with fridges, dishwashers, TVs and other booty – even packets of nappies – all of which come in useful as currency for various services. The relationship between Jon and Mehmet is nicely told, with neat touches of humour in the face of adversity.

However, the story rapidly shifts a gear, taking us to Luca Campbelli’s rather special antiquarian bookshop. Luca, the elderly owner, has just returned from a buying trip when he suddenly and mysteriously dies. It turns out that not only was the old man’s death no accident, but he was Jon’s estranged father. The two have not had any contact for 20 years, ever since Jon’s mother died under equally mysterious circumstances and his father shortly afterwards rejected him.

Soon enough after the old man's death, Luca’s two secretive bookshop assistants reveal to the young man that there is magic afoot – some people have a special ability to “transmit” the thoughts and emotions described in a book while reading aloud; and others are “receivers” – particularly susceptible to these thought waves. The author spends some time describing the detailed characteristics of these two secret groups, called Lectors (not after Hannibal, I hope), how their skills can be used beneficially or negatively, and how it has come about that the two factions have been at war for generations. 

Jon is unwillingly forced to join the fray when the shop is firebombed. Romance ensues, there is a big-business criminal mastermind, plenty of drama and a historical mystery leading back to the library of Alexandria. Putting it as kindly as I can, characterisation isn’t a strong point in this narrative. 

If you like this genre, then THE LIBRARY OF SHADOWS is fast-paced, exciting and readable, if a somewhat formulaic mixture of Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Da Vinci Code-type themes. I am afraid this type of escapism isn’t my cup of tea – and this is no fault of the excellent translation by Tiina Nunnally – I prefer novels that don’t involve magic and the supernatural.

Review first posted at Petrona, May 2010.

This entry was posted in Books, Denmark, Europe, Fantasy, Thriller, Translated and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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