Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


The Geographer’s Library by Jon Fasman


Rating: (Recommended)




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Jon Fasman’s debut novel, The Geographer’s Library, weaves a modern tale of suspense with the history of fourteen objects stolen from a 12th century geographer. Along the way, readers learn about alchemy, clever transformations, and the role of guardians for objects of value. Over 380 pages, Fasman keeps our attention, shifts from the present to the past, and unveils esoteric information in an easy manner.


Here’s an excerpt, from the end of the chapter titled, “It is the father of all works of wonder throughout the whole world,” pp. 125-129:


The Trout sat by the side of a rill just south of the Massachusetts border, along a broad swath of meadow ringed with thickets of pine trees and hills that loomed against the blue night like the idea of hills.

“That’s the Appalachian Trail right through those trees there,” said the bearded owner as he showed us to our table. “Not too many know that; people think Appalachian, they think of Tennessee. But you finish your meal and go along that trail at the back of the parking lot, turn left at the first grove, Tennessee’s where you’d wind up, you keep walking. When you’re ready to order, come on up to the counter. Menu’s on the blackboard above the bar over there. I was you, I’d stay away from the salmon,” he told us with a wink.

Hannah ordered their homemade ale and shepherd’s pie. I asked for a cheeseburger with fries and a Budweiser. The owner and Hannah both looked at me and winced, as though I had just asked for a sautéed baby. “Are you sure you want Budweiser?” asked Hannah, implying that she was sure that I didn’t. “They make their own beer here.”


The owner nodded and grinned, his eyes closed beatifically: with that kind of self-satisfaction, I expected perfection in a pint glass. “Then I’ll have. . . Just bring me one of whatever you’re bringing her.” He huffed a bit, gave a tight and extra-tolerant grimace, and walked away. I shrugged. “I’m a philistine, I know. If they had cans, I would have ordered a can.”

She gave a look of mock pique. “I just hope nobody sees me with a rube like you,” she joked, brushing her hand across mine.

I asked her what she thought of Father Hampden. “Oh, he’s a sweet old guy. He loves what he does, and he’s just the perfect picture of a New England priest, isn’t he? What did you think of him?”

I raised my eyebrows noncommitally. “I liked Reverend Makgabo.”

“He’s pretty quiet. I don’t know him all that well. But Father Hampden, he just seems so authentic, you know? He seems like he belongs right where he is.”

I knew not “seems,” but Hampden did, and better than he knew “is,” too. Hardly worth arguing over.

“Can I ask you a question?” she asked.

I nodded.

“What kind of name is Tomm? I mean, when you first called, I thought of Billy Bob, or Becky Sue, or something like that.” I laughed and nodded: I had heard this before, and everyone asked about the name. “I don’t mean to pry,” she said, tilting her head to the side and pulling her hair back from her face. That was unfair, I thought; I’d tell state secrets to see that gesture again.

“My grandfather, my father’s father, he came to Brooklyn from Poland. Only he was supposed to go to Liverpool, because that’s where his brother went, and that’s where he thought his boat was going. He couldn’t read or write, and I guess he just figured he’d hop on the first boat with an English-speaking crew So on the way west, he decides he has to anglicize his name Anyway, he turns to one of the shipmates—”

“The first mate?”

“The boatswain? The keelhauler? Who knows; I’ve been on one boat in my life, and that’s the Staten Island Ferry. So he asks this guy, ‘What’s the most English name you can think of?’ The guy says, ‘Tom.’ So that became his last name. How the extra m got thrown in, I don’t know, but that, believe it or not, is the story of my last name. What about you? Rowe? You a Mayflower baby?”

She laughed, accidentally spitting a little beer back in her pint glass. “Right. My father likes to think so. My mother, though, she’s your basic generic midwestern girl. Scandinavian, Scots-Irish. Probably a bit of something else, too. It’s the kind of ethnic background that doesn’t really count ethnic background.”

“Close family?”

“I’m very close to my mother. She lives on her own just outside Chicago. Schaumburg, if it means anything to you.” I shook my head. “But that’i about it. My father I see every so often, as infrequently as possible. He ran away with someone else when I was about six, then ditched her a while later There’ve been lots of someone elses. Anyway, he lives down in Florida now, in a silly little bungalow right on a golf course where he can drink 7-and-7s and stay vain. He hates the cold, so he never comes up here. An added advantage to living in Lincoln.”

Our food had arrived while she was talking, and she dug into her shep­herd’s pie like she hadn’t eaten in days. I guess I must have been watching her a tad too intently, because she looked up self-consciously and started wiping her chin and checking for food on her shirt.

“You’re fine, don’t worry. It’s just that I like girls who eat.”

“Oh, thanks. That’s me, I guess. A good little eater.”

“I didn’t mean . . . I’m sorry, I just . . .“

She laughed and waved me off. “I know. So what about you? You’re a Brooklyn mongrel. What else?”

“Actually, my dad lives back in Indianapolis, where he grew up. My par­ents split when I was twelve. Mom still lives in Brooklyn. In fact, she lives in the house where she grew up, this big three-story place. She always talks about renting the first couple of floors, but I think she wants to give the place to my brother and his wife.”

“Wow. A three-generation house in the United States. In New York, no less.”

“Yeah, well, I guess we don’t get around all that much.”

“No traveling?”

“No, I guess no one in the family really likes to travel. My folks took us to London once when I was a boy, and my mom goes to Holland and Ireland every so often to visit family. My dad says he gets the bends anywhere east of Cleveland or west of Omaha.”

“Okay, here’s the big question.” She did a little drumroll on the table with her fingers. “How old are you?”

“What’s your guess?”

“I don’t know. Twenty-seven? Twenty-eight?”

I slumped backward against the red Naugahyde bench. “That hurts. That really hurts. I just turned twenty-three.”

She put a hand over her mouth and her eyes widened, glittering as they picked up the candles on the tables around us. “My God. A baby. I can’t believe it. I guess I’ve dated people younger than me, but this is unprece­dented. Cradle robbing.”

I blushed. Did she just imply that we were dating? “Why? Can I ask. . .“

“Me? Over the hill. Done for. Past even the Christmas-cake jokes. You know, no good on the twenty-sixth? I’m thirty-one.”

I didn’t say anything, which in retrospect was worse than saying some­thing snide. I remembered my mother’s twenty-eighth birthday party pretty clearly. Thirty-one was an adult’s age. “I’ve never dated someone this much. . . Well, I guess I was in college and just didn’t. . .“ The hole got deeper as my face reddened.

“Oh, quit blushing. Just get me a walker on the way out of the bar and slip a little Postum in my beer, and I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

I don’t usually talk so smoothly with other people, especially women— especially women to whom I’m attracted. But our conversation just floated along, and the easier it got, the more I felt was at stake. The world grew wider and more benign at that table.

I confessed that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do; she said neither did she. Before moving to Lincoln, she had lived in Boston, where she taught English, sang in a couple of choirs, and lived “your basic lightly debauched life of a reasonably attractive single woman in a huge college town.” She moved here when she heard about the job at Talcott and was feeling like she needed an escape from the city, but said that she was “more content than happy” with her life. She wondered whether this was a problem or something to which she should adjust. I shrugged and said I didn’t know.

“Of course you don’t; you’re barely old enough to buy me a beer. Speak­ing of which.” She waved an empty glass in her left hand. “Another of the, same. And the promise holds: come back to this table with a Budweiser—or anything Bud-looking or anything in a can—and I’m leaving.”

We talked for another two hours and as many beers before she asked me what time it was. I got up to look at the clock behind the bar and saw beneath it, perched on a stool and not talking to anyone, a familiar-looking man. He had a kindly, seafaring face, blue eyes, and a white beard; he wore professorial clothes that seemed to lack shape and color (baggy, brownish beige). I couldn’t place him, but I was sure I had seen him before.

When I sat down, I pointed him out to Hannah; I figured he came from Lincoln and thought she might know him. When she turned around, he was staring right at our table; Hannah turned back quickly and before she could completely mask the look of shock and fear on her face. “I don’t know who lie is. I don’t think I’ve seen him before. I think we should go,” she said quickly, with an obviously false smile stretched thin across her mouth. “Plus, I’m tired,” she added, laying a hand across mine.

“What’s wrong? Who is that guy?”

“I just told you, I don’t know. Please, can we just go now? Please?”

“You still have half your beer left. Are you sure you don’t. . .“

As I spoke, she was getting money out of her purse, preparing to pay the bill. At that, I relented. “Okay, don’t do that. Let’s get out of here. But if you’re worried, maybe you should talk to the police, or maybe. . .“

She forced a look of fatigued, beery calm across her face, but her expres­sion seemed to hover just above her features like an imperfectly attached mask. “That man just reminds me a little of my father, the way he looks in old pictures.” If this were true, then her father must have been pushing sixty when she was born, which was strange, if not completely unheard of. But I couldn’t see this Old Mariner type in a golf-course bungalow in Florida.

Despite her casual smile and the affected jaunty walk toward the door, her hands shook as she fastened her cape.


Fasman’s creativity on the pages of The Geographer’s Library makes this thriller blossom. He leads readers on a treasure hunt for objects that lead to knowledge that transforms. His skill keeps readers thinking, and that brings fine reading pleasure.


Steve Hopkins, March 23, 2005



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the April 2005 issue of Executive Times


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