In 1714 in Peru a famous suspension footbridge spanning a deep gorge near Lima snaps and five peoplefall into the depths below. The story is told from the aftermath of the accident which is witnessed by Brother Juniper, a Franciscan friar. He is haunted by the question: why these five—why now? Is it Fate, is it Destiny? He feels that there must be some underlying explanation for their demise and that he should be able to find it out. The famous quotation from the book comes early on:
'Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.'
Perhaps these people lived especially bad lives and deserved to die. Perhaps they were especially saintly and called heavenward. Brother Juniper sets out to investigate their lives and write a book which he is convinced will be famous for its explanation of these things. Unfortunately he is surprised by the Spanish Inquisition, who wish to burn him with his book.
The book describes the people who were killed in detail. There is a rich and lonely old Marquesa who spends her time drunk or composing brilliant and elaborate letters to her daughter in Spain. There is Esteban, the poor orphan twin who is left alone and bereft in an uncomprehending world after his brother dies. Uncle Pio is a wanderer, a man of great talents who can mix in high society and spy for the aristocracy as easily as be a theatrical agent: he has a love of all beautiful women and a horror of succeeding at anything. Little Jaime is the youngest and sickliest child of the great actress Camila Perichole, and he is travelling with Uncle Pio. Lastly there is little Pepita, an orphan girl in her teenage years who is being groomed for leadership by the progressive Abbess to take over the work of running the women's refuge. Perhaps the only thing they all have in common is a haunting loneliness. It can only end in irony: far from solving the mystery Brother Juniper's efforts only deepen it.
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose