A Place in the Hills
By Michelle Paver
CORGI pounds 6.99
Any story of a man, a maid and a literary quest will invite comparison with AS Byatt's magnificent Possession. However, this is not a piece of many- layered literary fiction, even though it does contain some rather good cod classical poetry in translation. It is an erudite detective story in the Barbara Vine mould, with a romance thrown in.
What it does have in common with Byatt's work is an invented poet with a mystery attached: 2,000 years ago the Roman poet Cassius met and lost the love of his life, the high-born lady he disguised in his poetry under the name of Lycaris, whose identity was to baffle scholars down the succeeding generations. Some, indeed, were sure that she was just a figment of his imagination.
Archaeologist Antonia Hunt has always been convinced that the woman he wrote about with such passion must be flesh and blood, and that the promise he made to his friend Plautius on the day of his death, that "the truth is in the cup", is the literal truth.
A dig in Cassius's home valley in Provence reveals a sacrificial cup, graven with Pegasus and Bellerophon. Antonia's boyfriend, Myles, steals it before she can carry out the necessary research, because she falls in love with his friend Patrick. Twelve years later, her academic career blighted by the loss, she returns to the valley in search of the cup and her own peace of mind. Patrick, now a lawyer who supports pharmaceutical companies against the underdog, still owns a house there and is on hand to help. …