Let me start by making it very clear that I love books! I hardly ever throw or give away a book once I have it in my clutches. There are times, however, when you come across a book that does not fit into a category like “novel” or “drama”, but only “personal injury”. Here, I’m going to introduce one of them, and it may well develop into a series of blogs.
If you don’t speak German, you’re safe, this time. It all started out when I came across the book in one of the major book stores hereabouts (yes, I still physically visit book stores.) I had just picked up “Holy Grail, Holy Blood” (which I kept unread in my bookshelf for weeks afterwards until after I had read the “Da Vinci Code” only to find that the primary source), still had some money on a voucher and came across this sign saying “If you’ve enjoyed reading the ‘Da Vinci Code’ you will love this book.” By the time I had not read the “Da Vinci Code” but had heard of it, of course. Also, I should have become suspicious of that kind of advertisement, but I fell for it.
The book in question is “Die Bruderschaft der Runen” (“The Brotherhood of Runes”) by Michael Peinkofer.
It starts with a mysterious murder in a monastery’s library. This murder is researched by a policeman and a writer mistrusting that policeman. It turns out to have been committed by a pre-Christian cult. That cult has supposedly secretly directed Scottish politics and attempts to reestablish that influence. The book’s major merit (and what has let me read the book to its end, no matter what) is the idea of making Sir Walter Scott and his nephew the protagonists. It is them who eventually save the world, or at least Scotland and Britain.
This greatest merit is also what exposes the book’s major weakness. If the characters had all been completely fictional with no relevance or relationship to the reader’s real world and its past, the book could have passed as one of a billion moderately well told detective stories, decently well crafted fodder for the mass market. Because the book implicitly claims to describe historical settings and persons, it becomes blatantly obvious, however, that this is in fact not the case. And that does not just mean that Sir Walter Scott is depicted in a way that may not correctly reflect his character (which I couldn’t even tell.) All the book’s characters are just entirely not characters of their time but modern persons, thinking like modern persons. This is also, to some extent, true for William Baskerville of the Name of the Rose, but much more so here and for all the characters. The most painful example, to me, is the character of Mary of Egmont, a young noblewoman for who a marriage is arranged with, an unattractive Scottish nobleman who in turn is the head of the cult of the runes. That lady is coincidentally, just for good measure, the reincarnation of the wife fo the first head of that cult, who was later sacrificed (the wife). Something about her (in my own translation):
“The reason why she betook herself to Scottland was her marriage with Malcolm of Ruthven, a young Scottish landlaird, the family of whom had come to a great fortune. The marriage had been arranged without Mary having been asked. It was one of those arrangements customary among families of the nobility, for mutual good, as they said. Of course, Mary had answered back to it. Of course, she had argued she would not want to marry a man she neither knew nor loved. But her parents had taken the stance that love was something commonplace and burgeouise, the meaning of which was greatly overestimated […] Mary, however, resisted. She had struggled with all her power against this agrrement when Eleonore of Ruthven […] had come to Egton to inspect her future daughter-in-law. Mary had felt like cattle for sale on a market. She had accused her parents of selling her for privileges.”
Then it turns out she is a romantic bookworm, of course, with an exceptionally kind manner towards her servants. She saves an accused Scottish dissident from British soldiers, migles with common people in a Scottish pub, etc. etc.
Not only is this unbearably tacky, it is also completely unhistorical. One may say that, with Mary of Egmont, it is natural she is the odd one out, because she is the reincarnation of another noblewoman of a far more distant past. But then, that makes things even worse. The middle ages have been even less romantical than the early 19th century. Maybe I’m exaggerating the case of Mary of Egmont, and maybe I am a little touchy with those things as a former Historian, but shallowness, far-fetchedness of the plot combined with the sum of all the out of place and time characters made this a very hard read for me. Had the author set this story as an adventure of Sherlock Holmes a hundred years later, it might have worked a lot better.