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The Map Thief: A Novel

The Map Thief: A Novel

4.3 3
by Heather Terrell

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Beijing, China, 1421: It is a momentous time for the Ming Dynasty. Honoring the completion of the Forbidden City, a fleet of unprecedented size sets sail under Admiral Zheng He. Zheng’s mission is to chart the globe, trading for riches and bringing glory to China’s emperor. Among the crew is the talented cartographer and navigator Ma Zhi, whose work


Beijing, China, 1421: It is a momentous time for the Ming Dynasty. Honoring the completion of the Forbidden City, a fleet of unprecedented size sets sail under Admiral Zheng He. Zheng’s mission is to chart the globe, trading for riches and bringing glory to China’s emperor. Among the crew is the talented cartographer and navigator Ma Zhi, whose work will lead to the first true map of the world–but whose accomplishment will vanish when the fleet returns to a very different China than the one it left.

Lisbon, Portugal, 1496: At the height of Portugal’s maritime domination during the Age of Discovery, the legendary explorer Vasco da Gama embarks on a quest to find a sea route to India. On board is navigator Antonio Coehlo, who guards Portugal’s most secret treasure: a map that already shows the way.

New York, present day: Mara Coyne’s new client has left her uneasy. Republican kingmaker Richard Tobias has hired her, he says, because of her skill in recovering stolen art and advocating for the rightful owners, but Mara senses that he is not telling her everything. Tobias reveals that a centuries-old map was stolen from an archaeological dig he is sponsoring in China, and he wants her to get it back. But as Mara begins her investigation, she uncovers the shocking truth: The map is more valuable than anyone has ever imagined, and her client’s motives are more sinister than she suspected.

Weaving rich historical detail and astounding fact into a fast-paced suspense-fiction ride, The Map Thief is an incredible entrée to the murky underworld of stolen artifacts and the thieves and traders who broker them. From Hong Kong to the Italian countryside, from Lisbon to the remote reaches of Communist China, and literally around the world on the ships of fifteenth-century explorers, Heather Terrell takes readers on a globe-trotting adventure of epic proportions.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Attorney Terrell follows The Chrysalis with an uneven sequel that reprises art-sleuth heroine Mara Coyne and spans six centuries and five continents. Coyne, who specializes in recovering art "with a controversial past," is hired by "legendary conservative kingmaker" Richard Tobias to find a rare Chinese map that has been stolen from an archeological dig. Dating from an expedition of Admiral Zheng He to circumnavigate the earth, it is the "first map in history to accurately show the entire world" and was smuggled into Europe after an isolationist emperor ordered all accounts of the expedition destroyed. The map found its way to Portugal, where explorer Vasco da Gama used it to "discover" a sea route to India. There are lots of people hoping to suppress the existence of such a map, and Mara and archeologist Ben Coleman play a potentially deadly game of cat-and-mouse against powerful and sinister forces as they try to locate it. The imaginative narrative shifts among Zheng's expedition, da Gama's historic voyage and Coyne's investigation, but unfortunately, Terrell slows the action with superfluous characters, awkward dialogue and languid prose. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Solving the theft of a recently unearthed, pre-Columbian, Chinese map of the world calls for the highly specialized skills of a Manhattan lawyer and art historian. The map, briefly studied before its disappearance, was a stunner. Ben Coleman, archaeologist on the dig near Xi'an where an interesting mummy was also discovered, saw enough to know that if the fabulously valuable scroll's suspected antiquity can be verified, China will have bragging rights as discoverer of sea routes long claimed by Portugal. Ben's financial backer Richard Tobias, a snooty archconservative political figure, has the megabucks at hand to engage Mara Coyne to recover the map. Mara is a lawyer who has carved out a niche for herself putting art objects back where they belong. Terrell (The Chrysalis, 2007) weaves Mara's voyage of discovery into the history of Ma Zhi, cartographer to the legendary eunuch admiral Zheng He, and that of Portuguese sailor Antonio Coelho, an officer on Vasco da Gama's voyage to India, packing hefty loads of history into her slightly rickety thriller framework. Moving quickly to identify the thief before the treasure makes it into the hands of some unscrupulous collector, Mara jets off to China where she uses her professional contacts to come up with the name of the criminal boss near Xi'an who can set her on the trail. Teaming up with the hunky Ben, Mara gets a lead that takes her first to Italy and then to Lisbon, where she has been told that a Senhor Dias is the man most likely to have gotten his hands on the map. There is much snooping around Portugal, and much of the snooping has more than a whiff of Nancy Drew, with hidden rooms and secret clues and a scary Chinese guy following themeverywhere. The historical threads are less swoony, although mapmaker Zhi, whose voluntary castration made him eligible for Imperial service, does pine for his ladylove. Tepid thrills, but interesting history and geography.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Summer 1424
The Mongolian Steppes, China

The Mongolian steppes thunder as three hundred thousand horses charge across the plains. The ground vibrates from the unison marching of the nearly one million foot soldiers that follow in the cavalry’s wake. The arid soil of the steppes cracks under the army’s weight, and opens into countless new chasms. Without warning, the air grows silent, and the multitudes part. A towering figure on horseback cloaked in vibrant yellow gallops to the front of the ranks. It is Emperor Yongle, His Imperial Majesty of China, heir to the Dragon Throne and the Son of Heaven. The emperor knows that he should not ride unprotected across the steppes. He knows that he should ride shielded from sight, as mere mortals are forbidden to look upon the Son of Heaven. But he loves the fight, and he understands this battle against the rebel Mongol leader may be his last. Yet the emperor cannot help but believe that the gods will favor him with one more victory, as they have done so often in the past. And he must triumph against the insurgent Mongol forces outside on the battlefield in order to triumph against his political adversaries, the mandarins, inside his own kingdom. For the mandarins have been whispering that the rebellion is a sign that the gods have forsaken the emperor and his grand plans. The emperor must vanquish the rebels and prove the mandarins wrong before his pliable son and chosen successor, Zhu Gaozhi, starts listening to their whispers and abandons the emperor’s projects when he ascends the DragonThrone.

The aging emperor cannot allow this to happen. He must protect his beloved monuments, the Forbidden City and Great Wall among them, which declare China’s might to the world. He must keep intact the vast empire of tribute and trade he so carefully reconstructed after centuries of neglect. Most of all, he must safeguard his beloved navy, the largest and most advanced the world has ever known, and its plans for far-reaching voyages.

The gods know that he has only ever wanted to make his people have faith in their own rule after so many years of foreign Mongol domination. He must make the Mongol rebels kowtow to him, so that his glorious legacy will not be lost to the mandarins’ self-serving schemings when Zhu Gaozhi becomes the Son of Heaven.

The battle horns cry out, and the air reverberates with their sound. The emperor places his hand on the hilt of his sword, ready to fight alongside the soldiers as if he were a mere mortal. He longs for victory, but if he is to die, he will die on these steppes and not caged within the Forbidden City like some rarefied bird.

The fast clap of a horse interrupts the herald of the horns. The emperor wonders who dares to disrupt this moment, his moment. He turns to see his general dismounting and kneeling at his side.

“Your Imperial Majesty, it is not fitting that you should head the troops. I beg that you allow me to lead the charge against the rebel Mongols.”

Staring down at the general, the emperor’s legendary black eyes flash in anger. “Never forget that I am the Son of Heaven. I will ride out among the men.” He watches until the general backs away.

The emperor looks out onto the battlefield. He regrets only that his trusted adviser, Admiral Zheng He, cannot ride alongside him in what could well be his last moments. But Zheng cannot. The emperor has other plans for him.

Emperor Yongle smiles as he unsheathes his sword, spurs on his horse, and roars to the army to follow his lead. He is a dreamer and a gambler, and he will die as he has lived. He leaves it to the gods to decide his fate and his legacy to China.

Meet the Author

Heather Terrell is the author of The Chrysalis. A lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies, Terrell is a graduate of Boston College and of the Boston University School of Law. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

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Map Thief 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Famous conservative kingmaker' Richard Tobias hires art recovery investigator Mara Coyne to find a valuable Chinese map stolen from an archeological dig. This is the type of artifact that Coyne searches for as it is the oldest known map to clearly show the entire globe dating to the early fifteenth century and the expedition of Admiral Zheng to sail around the world. The priceless artifact was smuggled out of China when an Emperor purged any reference to the expedition. It reappeared when Vasco Da Gama used it as a guide in his search for the western sea passage to India. -------------- In the present many groups willing to use force want the map mostly to suppress the evidence that the Chinese came to the Americas decades before Columbus. Mara and archeologist Ben Coleman struggle to find the map and stay alive neither task easy to accomplish.-------------- Fictionalizing the historical theories of Gavin Menzies (see 1421 THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED THE WORLD and 1434: THE YEAR A MAGNIFICENT CHINESE FLEET SAILED TO ITALY AND IGNITED THE RENAISSANCE), Heather Terrell provides a fascinating thriller. The story line is at its best when the focus is on the fifteenth century among Zheng and Da Gama journeys. The modern day cast fails to hold up next to the real historical cast, making most of the contemporaries feel as unnecessary intruders except for Coyne who is the readers guide to the expeditions of Zheng and Da Gama.------------ Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago