It’s funny how two things can have all the same basic ingredients and yet end up wildly different. A Maclaren MP4-12C and a Fiat 500 are both cars: yet few would disagree that they’re worlds apart.
Similarly, even though Emery Borka has – in Steve Santa and the secret of the Last Parfait – succeeded in producing a novel that combines all the classic airport novella ingredients with a home-spun accidental-hero vibe, I’m sad to say that the result is less like The Da Vinci Code than a long series of knowing nods to (and in-jokes for) the writer’s family and friends combined with Internet research.
The reason I’m reviewing it here is that the Voynich Manuscript makes a solid Macguffinly appearance in it, the idea being that it is written in the Dongba language. Though, technically speaking, Dongba is a set of ideographic (and, indeed, very idiosyncratic) pictographs developed ~1000 years ago in parallel with the Naxi language, whereas I suspect Voynichese is rather more similar to the Geba syllabary more typically used to write Naxi. But that’s by the by. 🙂
If I mentioned that Borka’s story also has various modern-day Knights Templar factions, the Daughters of Tsion, Cathars, Paris, Xiamen, GulangYu, Rennes-le-Chateau, Carcasonne, Toulouse, Rocamadour, Padirac, and (yes) Black Madonnas, you’d get the idea: but even that fails to do justice to arguably the book’s best (and simultaneously worst) feature – the food.
You see, everywhere in the world that Borka’s retired, divorced, cashed-out hero pinballs onwards to, he gets to eat (and describe in depth) the most authentic-sounding regional dishes possible, while simultaneously being given high-velocity touristic mystery history by some implausibly well-informed
Wikipedia page local expert. It’s a bit like being strapped to a wall and having the world’s food fired at you by a rapid succession of international chefs.
So, I have to say I’m not sure the world is quite ready for Borka’s historical mystery food tourism proto-genre: treating it as airport fiction and trying to read it too quickly would probably give you indigestion. But all the same, it is what it is and there’s no point hiding it: as Popeye said to the sweet potato, “I yam what I yam“. 😉