The Codex, by Lev Grossman

I want to try something new. For a long time I've wanted to write book reviews. For a while I contributed to Amazon but I really didn't like getting buried under other people's one-liners. I never got the idea that people were really reading those reviews.

So my plan is to review every book I read this year. These reviews may not be in depth and will of course be slanted regarding my tastes, my likes and dislikes.

Without further ado -- my first book review.

The Codex, by Lev Grossman

Edward Wozny is a wunderkind, an investment banker who's achieved everything he can by the age of 27 (or thereabouts). His bank transfers him to London, leaving Edward with a couple of weeks to kill before moving to the UK.

Yesterday he'd been a hard-charging, highly-paid investment banker in New York, and two weeks from now he'd be a hard-charging, highly-paid investment banker in London. For now he was just Edward Wozny, and he wasn't totally sure who that was. Working was all he did, and it was all he could remember doing. What did people do when they weren't working? Play? What were the rules? What did you get if you won?

Before leaving NYC, Edward receives an odd assignment. One of his firm's biggest clients, the 13th Duke of Bowmry, requests that Edward archive his collection of rare books. The duchess tasks Edward with finding a Medieval manuscript composed by Gervase of Langford (a contemporary of Chaucer). And so the hunt begins.

During his search, Edward meets Margaret, a Ph.D. student in Medieval studies who's at work on her dissertation about Gervase of Langford. He also becomes addicted to a mysterious computer game called MOMUS that actually seems to mirror his own search in the real world. Late in the book, Edward meets one of the programmers of MOMUS and learns that he, too, was once employed by the duchess to find Gervase's missing book.

The Codex reads like an Arturo Perez-Reverte book if Arturo were an American who grew up reading Hardy Boys mysteries. The plot is well-thought-out and well-executed, the twists both necessary and surprising. The end is perfect. All this is very important to me as an inveterate plotter.

But what raises this book head and shoulders above so many others is the brilliance of descriptive passages like this one, describing Edward's late-night subway ride home:

A team of men and women in fluorescent vests hosed down the platform, and the air smelled comfortably of warm, soapy water. A blind Chinese woman pciked out "The Girl from Ipanema" on a hammered dulcimer. A gray pigeon floated by weaving hopelessly between the pillars, a lost soul trapped in the underworld.

The writing is very good, except where it is excellent. And where it's excellent, I stopped reading for a long time, as if trapped in the world the author had conjured.

This is the best book about books I've read since Possession. It destroys The Archivist and The Rule of Four so utterly that I wouldn't be surprised to find my copies of these latter books transmuted into little heaps of ash.

The Codex is an outstanding book and I very much wish I'd written it.