By Christopher Murphy
Published October 2007
Reviewed January 4, 2008
Originally reviewed in: BookReview.com
Emeralds are rarely the first choice in valuable gemstones: they don’t have the cultural import of diamonds and have less history than rubies and sapphires. There’s also no political intrigue behind them, unlike the blood diamonds African warlords use to fund violent uprisings or Burmese rubies which fund a notoriously authoritarian government.
So, with these alternatives, is it possible to make these verdant minerals remarkable? As Christopher Murphy proves in his convoluted yet utterly entertaining novel “Emerald Passage,” the answer is yes. Emeralds can motivate a journey spanning from Belgium to Brazil, lead a gem smuggler to cross paths with three beautiful women and unite a sailing team in a search for peaceful understanding.
Emeralds are the book’s plot device, but the narrative belongs to main character Rollo Runyan – a quick-witted romantic who could be easily portrayed by Errol Flynn. Cheated out of a diamond cache after his release from a South African prison, Runyan begins tracking emeralds purchased with those diamonds to collect his fair share. These new gems, however, are connected to KGB agents involved in a Middle East conspiracy he can’t help but be interested in.
Murphy puts Runyan through a dizzying amount of tests and trials en route to get the emeralds. He writes a financially successful short story and song, foils an airplane hijacking, infiltrates a Rio de Janeiro masquerade dressed as dynamite and joins a sailing team for a race around the world. These scenes are well-rendered, if overly complex: Runyan’s blueprint for the hunt is a jumble of multilingual papers, and it takes some flipping back to decipher the exact plan.
More interesting than where Runyan goes is what Runyan says, either musing on his current plight or coming up with a new story for one of the women he meets in transit. Comments range from the humorous – disappointment is “discovering you can’t swim from a sinking ship with gold in your pockets, your so-called ‘life savings’” – to longer conversations on romance and worldly connections. Murphy may be voicing his personal beliefs, but does so in a manner engaging rather than preachy.
By the final scene of “Emerald Passage,” a tense showdown with Arab sheiks and Israeli commandos, it’s possible you’ll have lost the reason why Rollo’s there but even more likely you’ll be too occupied to be upset. Like an actual emerald, the book has countless facets – so many its distracting – but it’s cut from a solid crystal of an idea and illuminated by Murphy’s wordplay.