was born in North London. He has worked in TV and radio and as a freelance journalist. He has been a novelist for the last twenty five years, with his work published widely in the UK, US and Europe. His books have been translated into seventeen languages. He currently lives in Australia. Visit his website at
First published in Great Britain in 2011
by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.
Copyright © Colin Falconer, 2011
The moral right of Colin Falconer to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-85789-108-2
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0-85789-109-9
E-book ISBN: 978-0-85789-119-8
Printed in Great Britain.
Corvus, an imprint of Grove Atlantic Ltd
26-27 Boswell Street
London WC1N 3JZ
The story of
was many years in the making and I would like to thank those who finally got it into print. Firstly my agent Patrick Walsh, whose enthusiasm for my story saw it from his submission tray into the hands of the wonderful Anthony Cheetham at Corvus, Atlantic.
I would like to thank everyone at Corvus who worked on the project with me, particularly Nic Cheetham and Rina Gill, who both championed the book, and also my wonderful editor, Laura Palmer, who took it through, line by line. My thanks also to Richenda Todd for her comments and suggestions on the typescript. Thank you all. A special thank you also to Tim Curnow, my lifelong friend, who has been with me through thick and thin and knows this story, and the story of the story, better than anyone.
I would also like to thank the driver who took us out to the caves at Turpan and got us down off the hairpin cliffs after the steering rod on the 4WD broke. I wish I remembered his name now. Traumatic amnesia perhaps. Also many thanks to the bus driver out of Urumqi who somehow missed all that oncoming traffic despite driving on the wrong side of the road with his headlights on. Maybe less whisky at the rest stops next time?This book is for my bella Diana, who mended my wing and showed me how to fly again.
in the year of the Incarnation of Our Lord 1293
HEY FOUND HIM
in the cloister, lying on his back with ice in his beard. He was half-conscious, muttering about a Templar knight, a secret commission from the Pope, and a beautiful woman on a white pony. His fellow monks carried him back to his cell and laid him on the hard cot that had been his bed for the last twenty years. He was an old man now and there was nothing to be done. His eyes had the cold sheen of death. A brother went to fetch the abbot so that the old fellow might make his last confession.
It was cold as death in the room. The abbot knelt down beside him. Somewhere in the forest a fir bough crashed to the ground under its burden of snow. The old man’s eyes flickered open at the sound and the yellow glimmer of the candle was captured in the lens of his eye. His breathing was ragged in his chest and the abbot wrinkled his nose at the sour smell of it.