The Blue Afternoon by William Boyd Penguin $102 IT is rare for a novelist to take you into a fantasy world and yet not demand that you suspend your own belief. Yet in this story of the world a century ago, William Boyd weaves a particular brand of magic that also represents a truth. Kay Fischer is an architect in Los Angeles in the 30s, struggling to survive a divorce and a former business partner who is trying to ruin her. Then a man starts following her. He says he is her father which is a surprise as she had been told her father, an Englishman, died in German New Guinea when she was a baby. But the former surgeon, former cook, Salvador Carriscant manages to persuade her to come with him to Portugal to look for a woman whom he has loved for more than 30 years. The story is not so much Kay's story, although this independent yet vulnerable woman is intriguing, as a journey into Carriscant's own past. His story brings us back to Manila at the turn of the century. The Spanish have just been ousted, the Americans have arrived. Carriscant's memory of the rebels attacking the city in 1899 is standing in his garden 'with a cup of tea in his hand, listening to the mumbled boom of artillery, feeling the air shiver, setting the dust motes dancing to the distant percussion, the teaspoon rattling on the porcelain'. He is part-Filipino, part-Spanish, part-British. As a a young surgeon he fights against the old doctors at the San Jeronimo hospital in Manila, who believe if it hurts, cut it off. Then the killings start: American soldiers found in the fields with surgical-style cuts from their breastbones to their genitals. At first, Carriscant aids the investigators. Later he, like his friend Dr Pantaleon, who is eccentrically trying to build a heavier-than-air flying machine, comes under suspicion. The circumstances under which he falls in love with a woman who is not his wife make him behave even more strangely. Carriscant is alienated from his home, his lover, and he does not even know his daughter until she is a grown woman. It is no coincidence that, at the beginning of the book, Boyd discusses the architectural thinking of the 30s where simplicity - of line and material - was all-important. His book is written on similar lines. Kay and her contemporaries concentrated less on the walls hemming people in and more on the spaces letting them breathe. Less is more. By stripping out the unnecessary decorations in The Blue Afternoon Boyd has certainly left us with more. The blue afternoon? A fleeting reference in the work which, like the book itself, is a moment of pure pleasure.