Book covers


      Alessandro Gallenzi: The Tower.       

Alma Books     £ 7.99.

There is a line of dialogue in the film The Da Vinci Code that soon attracted ridicule.

‘We need to get to a library fast,’ says Tom Hanks.

Not the best way to link narrative perhaps.

The technocratic bibliophiles who investigate the disappearance of a missing manuscript are too savvy to be that crass, and so is Alessandro Gallenzi the author of The Tower.  There are two stories in this fine book.  These are the persecution of late Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno and the theft of one of his manuscripts by a Catholic priest 500 years later in Jordan.  The chapters of the book alternate between these two stories.  Within the first twelve pages the reader has visited 16th Century Rome and modern day Jordan.   Gallenzi has enough confidence and skill to resist the temptation to vary his chosen format.  At the end of each chapter the reader willingly returns to the other story. 

The investigation of the missing manuscript is kept simple.  The bibliophiles who investigate the robbery are dull intellectuals but believable.  The book benefits from having uncomplicated investigators.  The Tower reveals both the philosophy and history of the rebellious philosopher.  The accusations of the Catholic Church and the refutations of Bruno do not constitute a simple argument.  It requires skill to be faithful to the original ideas and events and yet provide an easily read thriller.  Gallenzi succeeds.  He pitches The Tower somewhere between The Da Vinci Code and The Name Of The Rose.  The simple mindedness of The Da Vinci Code and the pretentious cheese of The Name Of The Rose are avoided.  Like Umberto Eco did in The Name Of The Rose, Gallenzi preaches the importance of knowledge. Giordano Bruno is a great champion for the curious, and The Tower is a splendid tribute to an important thinker.

The links between past battles within the Catholic Church and the Islamic extremists of today are clear and they support the unusual format of the book.  .  Knowledge that undermines faith may be dangerous but it is important.  There are other links.  The philosopher Giordano Bruno hopes to create in his writings a tool that will enable humans to master memory and expand their knowledge and resist narrow-minded autocrats.  The Internet is welcomed by the technocratic investigators as the modern realisation of what Bruno attempted.  His manuscript is held in a tall tower that houses an organisation that will digitalise every book that has ever been written.  Biblia Tower is a modern equivalent of a monastery.  Monasteries also had a grand purpose.  They were remote places of work for the serious yet they depended for survival on capricious warlords and monarchs.  Biblia Tower houses dedicated intellectual specialists but its project requires the support of a volatile stock market.

The Tower, though, is much more than dry intellectual debate.  The modern story contains well-timed shocks, and the block headed persecution of Bruno is told passionately.  His story and fate will engage and enrage readers.  Gallenzi is convincing on how persecutors operate and think.  It becomes clear that the crimes imagined by the powerful are always beyond the thinking of the ordinary.  The will to destroy the innocent has always charged dark inspiration.  I look forward to a sequel, perhaps a thriller about Erasmus.

 By Howard Jackson.