Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Cellini Masterpiece

Author: Raymond John
Publisher: North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.
ISBN: 0-87839-233-5

Of the thousands of books I’ve read, this is the only one set in Malta. Enticingly located in the Mediterranean, the island of Malta clearly is an appealing backdrop for a romance novel. Alternatively, a story rich in history is plausible. But I never envisioned Malta as the stage for an adventure involving twenty-first century terrorism. It takes a writer with Raymond John’s fertile imagination to artfully blend all of these ingredients – a generous helping of romance, a dash of history, a drop of terrorism, and a sprig of mystery – into a pleasing story.

Rick Olsen, a thirty-two year old prairie restorer (can you imagine a more innocuous profession?), travels to Malta to help his brother, Stef, unravel a mystery involving a precious gold sculpture. Rick’s troubles begin as soon as he steps off the plane. First, he is mugged at the airport. Then, he discovers that Stef has disappeared. Fortunately, Rick meets Caterina, an attractive cab driver whom he hires to be his chauffeur while he searches for his brother.

As Rick and Caterina search for Stef, they soon realize that Stef’s discovery is the key to a perilous mystery. Since Rick has some military experience and Caterina knows a few wily tricks, they cope surprisingly well with a variety of life-threatening situations. The fact that Rick knows a talented computer nerd who feeds them vital information doesn’t hurt either. The search for Stef takes Rick and Caterina all over the island, a circumstance that allows John to sprinkle the story with intriguing historical and geographical tidbits. As they trek and search – and fall in love – Rick and Caterina uncover a terrorist plot that endangers the entire Mediterranean region. By the story’s end, the farmer and the cabbie (surely the most unlikely pair of action heroes ever conceived) recover Stef, solve the mystery of the sculpture and foil the terrorists.

The Cellini Masterpiece, Raymond John’s first novel, is a captivating story. The two principal characters are enchanting and John’s portrayal of Rick and Caterina’s romance is exceptionally well done. He skillfully evokes intense passion without descending into prurience. Unfortunately, the book’s secondary characters are not nearly as alluring as the principals. The villains are particularly dull and stereotypical.

John’s flair for descriptive detail embeds the reader in Maltese culture, architecture and history. Thanks to John, Malta is now on my list of places I must visit before I die. I want to explore the island as Rick and Caterina did. I want to taste the cuisine they savored. I want to see the sunsets, smell the salty air and feel the breezes as they did. In short, I want to sample Rick and Caterina’s experience, minus the intrigue and danger, of course.

Overall, The Cellini Masterpiece is a rather good first novel. I hope to see more work by Raymond John in the future. Readers who like adventures set in exotic locales will enjoy this book.

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