It’s contemporary Spain, and a man who believes he’s Christopher Columbus is admitted to the Sevilla Institute for the Mentally Ill. His case is handled by Nurse Consuela, who has a penchant for drinking red wine straight out of the bottle. Meanwhile, in Paris, disgraced Interpol officer Emile Germain, assigned to a missing-person case, must leave his penthouse to go in search of a mysterious “person of interest.”
Thomas Trofimuk’s latest novel has all the ingredients of a sexy, cosmopolitan mystery, deftly alternating between the viewpoints of its psychologically broken players, creating smooth transitions in what could have been a choppy read. We are also privy to the stories Columbus relates to Consuela, the unfolding epic of how he convinced the King and Queen of Spain to fund his Atlantic crossing.
In the end, the key to Columbus’s true identity lies within his stories. Characters and encounters turn out to be skewed representations of people and events in his real life. It’s an interesting premise, and Trofimuk throws cars, café culture, and telephones into 15th century Spain, further blurring the line between fantasy and reality.
But Waiting for Columbus never delivers on its promise. The novel is not tight enough to be truly suspenseful and often resorts to melodramatic dialogue – particularly between Columbus and Consuela. The problem may be Trofimuk’s tone. From the outset he employs sincere, sober language. He depicts Columbus as a wronged prophet, when in fact his overblown sexual escapades and tendency to end conversations with a slice of dime-store wisdom (“All stories are true, Fuentes”) make him appear more than slightly ridiculous. In one of his “memories,” Columbus and Beatriz, the mother of his children, make love on top of his navigational charts. The next day he finds a crease made from “the sweat lines of her buttocks” and decides it will be his route
to the Indies. You’d laugh, but you suspect Trofimuk doesn’t mean for you to.