by Jeffrey Perren
Jeffrey Perren's latest novel, Clonmac's Bridge, has just been released. The story is based on the discovery of the remains of Ireland's oldest bridge near the Clonmacnoise Monastery in 1996. Jeffrey is also the author of Cossacks in Paris and Death is Overrated.
A maritime archaeologist raises a medieval monastery span from the mud of the River Shannon, sunken for 1,200 years ... and finds it perfectly preserved.
What could account for this astounding longevity? Why are his colleagues and the Church so desperate to prevent him learning the secret? And why is his consummate lover his greatest enemy?
Griffin Clonmac will go through hell to find out.
He won’t go alone. Inspired by a real discovery, Clonmac’s Bridge shifts between contemporary times and 9th century Ireland. It tells the story of two men who struggle against envy and mediocrity - a millennium apart - aided only by a loyal helpmate and an unconquerable will.
An archaeological thriller, a love story, and a pensée on society then and now, Jeffrey Perren fans are sure to find this latest novel his best yet.
Griffin Clonmac raced toward the university library, every sense on high alert. The email from a fellow maritime archaeologist had set his whole body tingling. He couldn’t wait to confirm its contents because — if it were right — he now held the key to a mystery he’d been trying to solve for fourteen years: the location of the legendary bridge near Clonmacnoise Monastery.
He’d made several great finds before, each of which told him something important about how western culture developed. The sunken city of Herakleion from 300 BC, the Roskilde Viking ships, and a few others. Each revealed important pieces to the puzzle he was assembling. Now he was on the verge of finding the most important one, one that stood at the beginning of Ireland’s slow rise out of the Dark Ages.
The country and the time had always held a special fascination for him. Apart from his family background, he had always wondered why Ireland remained so backward for so long. There seemed no good reason for it. The country was filled with monasteries that held a vast repository of ancient learning while Europe was still mired in medieval barbarism.
More, the barbarian raids from what would become Scandinavia and Germany infrequently touched Ireland. Most of the attacks in 9th century Eire were led by native chieftains. Those from the gaill — foreign invaders — were hardly more disruptive to the average farmer than the near-daily abuse serfs suffered later at the hands of feudal lords. In any case, other peoples adapted to such things and still advanced.
Yet, stagnation was still the rule of the period throughout the country.
It made no sense to him, and things that made no sense bothered him in a very personal way. The explanation had eluded him his entire career, nettling like a pebble in his shoe. He was determined to eject the stone if he had to search every body of water in the land.
He recalled how a friendly colleague, a professor of anthropology, had laughed at his obsession only a few days before. “It’s just a bridge, Griff. Why all the fuss?”
Griffin was stunned by the attitude, coming from a man who claimed to be fascinated by archaeology. “The bridge at Clonmacnoise — hell, any bridge — is a key to understanding an era’s level of trade, technology, and overall development in a river-divided land. People only build them if they can, and if they want to move people or goods over them, no?”
“Well, 600-plus years passed between the glorious Roman spans in the west and their Romanesque revival in the High Middle Ages. That tells you something.”
Griffin pressed the point home. “But what if there was one, even one such, at the start of the 9th century, over two hundred years before, say, the Pont-Audemer or Besalú or Albi? And in a place where no one had any reason to suspect one. How could evidence like that not be worth obsessing over?”
He ended his remembrance just as he was passing the Greek portico outside the Rotunda, on his way to the North Oval Room. He squinted against the sun then sped past the pillars and bound up the steps and inside, heading for the second floor. He would soon have his hands on the folio his friend mentioned in his message.
Upstairs, just outside the Special Collections stacks, he slid across the tiled floor to a stop. He restrained for a moment his lust for the promised volume in order to calm himself. He took a deep, soul-satisfying sniff of dust carrying the aroma of sulfur. He loved old books the way a South American playboy loved polo ponies.
Then, grinning at the disapproving young woman who guarded the library entrance, he shoved past the turnstile and entered. She knew him well and had disliked him for nearly as long. She pulled up the sleeves on her sloppy sweater and went back to her work with a dour mien. He grinned a cheerful smile anyway as he passed her.
There was no one else there. But he did see the book he sought. It was sitting in a large, freestanding case filled with similar volumes. He knew it by the number lovingly etched in the spine and etched on his memory from the email. He paused before it, donned latex gloves, then reached out with a trembling hand.
He took it to a carrel and sat down, hoping to be uninterrupted for at least an hour. He carefully thumbed through the linen pages, refraining from licking his fingers in order to preserve the 15th century manuscript. It described life at many of the monasteries of Ireland. He moved to the section the email had described and read swiftly.
An hour later, his face resembled the young woman’s expression. He had learned nothing new, nothing that seemed relevant at any rate. Yet, his comrade was not the sort to send his associates on wild hare chases. He tried to think of what might have prompted his suggestion, then decided simply to ask him later.
Griffin stood up and turned around in preparation for replacing the folio onto the shelf. Through the gap where the volume had stood he saw a colleague, Daley Garvin, standing behind the bookcase. The chubby professor’s arms were clenched behind his back as if he were hiding something, something heavy. He turned his gaze away when Griffin’s eyes locked onto his.
Griffin put back his book and poked his head around the case, peering down the narrow gap between it and the wall. He nodded and waved a salute from an eyebrow out to the air, like he was entering a conspiracy with a naughty boy. Daley turned his body to keep his hands obscured from Griffin’s view and shot back a tight-lipped smile.
Griffin scampered out of the library and walked toward the men’s room then whipped around the corner without going in. He waited a few seconds for the expected sound of Daley’s footfalls. He delayed another five until the sounds faded down the hallway. Then he peeped around the corner. He spied him walking toward the exit, a tome tucked under his arm.
Griffin was too far away to see the title of the book. He thought it must contain information he wanted Griffin not to see. That would have been in line with Dr. Garvin’s ongoing campaign to hinder his professional progress whenever he could. Why he did that, Griffin could only guess.
Explaining Daley’s motives didn’t matter, anyway. The only thing that did was getting his hands on that book. Griffin followed him, close enough to keep him in sight but far enough away not to be seen.
Near the exit, he paused and watched from a shadowed nook 'til Daley went outside. He saw him slide the book inside his jacket before taking the stone steps down to the sidewalk. Foolish, Griffin thought. That was more conspicuous than carrying the priceless work openly.
Griffin followed him toward the Department of Anthropology offices. Professor Garvin’s spacious office was in the corner with the best view. Griffin, as adjunct faculty, had a tiny sliver of space down the hall, another reason he could never fathom the older man’s perpetual grudge. Surely the limited fame Griffin had achieved was too petty a thing for even Daley to covet. At least, he hoped so.
He waited until Daley entered the building before moving closer. He chuckled as the older man passed under the stone chimera above the entrance to Brooks Hall. The monster reminded him of his rival, its face frozen in eternal suffering from some unknown torment.
He held back a solid minute before making his way to the stairs. Then he sauntered up them and strolled into the hallway. He slowed as he made the turn off the steps at the top and rounded the corner, glancing casually into Dr. Garvin’s office as he walked past.
Daley was inside and, as Griffin passed, the human gargoyle swiftly spread some papers over the folio, pretending to look for something amid the clutter. Griffin chortled and continued down the hallway to his monk’s cell, already preoccupied with trying to contrive how to get his hands on the book.
He could notify the Special Collections Librarian of the theft. But since he didn’t have tenure that could create an unpleasant backlash. Even if he framed it as the innocent error of an absent-minded professor, it was certain that Griffin would take the brunt of any controversy, not Daley.
Or, Daley could just hide the book and deny the whole thing. He might even destroy it. For an archeologist with twenty years’ experience, Dr. Garvin had often shown a shocking disregard for the care of artifacts.
Sometimes, it was simple blundering. At others, it seemed more like malice, as if his peers — who viewed archaeological finds as more important than those who found them — were suggesting a rebuke, and he felt a personal insult. It was a mystifying attitude for a scholar, but Griffin had long since given up trying to understand the man.
Griffin stood against his office wall and tapped the window pane distractedly with an index finger, forgetting about Daley and focusing on his quarry: the book. He glanced down and noticed one of his students walking across the grass outside the building, an attractive redhead wearing a low-cut blouse and no bra. It gave him an idea.
He scooted down the hallway and clattered down the stairs to catch up with her, reaching her as she passed the corner below Daley’s office. The angle prevented them being seen from above.
Griffin explained what he wanted her to do and she agreed with a sly smile. Doing a favor for the good-looking professor was reason enough to comply. Add in the chance to play a harmless prank on the cranky Dr. Garvin and the request grew irresistible.
She walked up the exterior steps of the building. Griffin trailed behind her far enough to avoid suspicion.
Inside, Griffin hid under the staircase. A minute later, he observed Daley tailing the coed out of the building like a puppy after a meat-laden bone. As arranged, she’d bent over and lingered to tie a shoe in front of his door. Griffin had correctly guessed the old perv wouldn’t resist another chance to stare down her blouse.
Griffin waited, biting his lower lip for a few seconds longer to make sure Daley wouldn’t double back, then he raced up the stairs. He rounded the corner at high speed and sped into his office. He nearly tumbled over when he halted too abruptly in an effort to avoid spearing his thigh on the corner of the desk.
He shoved the covering papers off to the side — but the book was nowhere to be seen. He had to find it fast. Daley wouldn’t risk getting caught stalking by following the girl very far across campus.
His eyes quickly scanned the bookshelves, seeing nothing useful. Then he whisked open two drawers in the desk. Luckily, Daley had been too distracted to lock them before leaving. Empty. On the third try, he found the folio. He pulled it out as quickly as he dared, clamped it under his arm, then fled through the doorway.
He bounced off Daley the instant he moved through the opening.
Daley was about to protest, but Griffin fast-walked down the hall and into his office before the old professor could form a full sentence. He quickly locked his door behind him.
Griffin laid the precious octavo on his desk, donned gloves, and opened the cover, forcing himself not to be too hasty. There were only sixteen pages and he had skimmed two before the first knock on his door sounded. He ignored it and went on reading.
The pounding continued, getting louder with every trio of slams. Griffin didn’t even look up, taking only a second to shout, “Check the office hours!”
Pretending it was an insistent student would only work for a few more minutes. The noise was so loud that others would soon flood the hallway and wonder what was going on. Griffin knew they would side with Professor Garvin before bothering to hear any facts.
He was on the fifteenth page when he heard a click indicating someone was unlatching his lock. Daley must have snagged a maintenance man and given him some story to justify opening another man’s office.
Griffin reached the last paragraph just as his door swung open. He read it twice, holding an angry Daley at bay with an outstretched arm. Then he closed the book and allowed him to take it back. The bearded troll grumbled unconvincingly about shocking rudeness, something he had no qualms about being himself when it suited, and waddled back through the doorway, clutching the book with two ungloved hands.
No matter. Griffin didn’t need the book anymore, anyway. He now had permanently inscribed in his memory a vital clue. What he’d read told him he was well on his way to the keenest find of his career: the long-lost Clonmacnoise Bridge, Ireland’s first major span, sunken in the Shannon River for 1,200 years.
A rather fascinating look at archeology with the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to get an archeological dig funded and up and running and, by having to work around jealous colleagues, stuffed shirt corporates and in this case even the Peruvian mafia raised the entertainment level tremendously. My particular taste for all things historical made this a very appealing story from the very beginning. The characters personalities were explored and added a depth and richness to them. The historical aspects were interesting and really stretched the boundary. At times the delay and controversy surrounding the dig seemed to drag on but as new elements were infused it crept back up to its original interest level and pace.
About the Author
Jeffrey Perren wrote his first short story at age 12 and went on to win the Bank of America Fine Arts award at 17. Since then he has published at award-winning sites and magazines from the US to New Zealand.
Educated in philosophy and physics at UCLA and UC Irvine, he lives in Sandpoint, Idaho.
He is also the author of Cossacks in Paris, an historical war novel set in the Napoleonic era, as well as the romantic travel mystery Death is Overrated.