Terrell's second novel continues the story of Mara Coyne, a former attorney who now travels the world recovering stolen art. In The Map Thief, Mara is hired by notorious conservative kingmaker Richard Tobias to locate a priceless Ming Dynasty-era world map that was stolen from an archaeological dig in China. His reasons for wanting the map, as Mara discovers, are rather sinister, and she finds that she must pursue her own agenda to find the map and return it to its rightful owner: the Chinese government.
As Mara follows the map's trail, which takes her to China, Italy and Portugal, she begins to realize the massive impact that the recovery of this map will have on the history of European exploration. This map proves that the Chinese were the first to discover parts of the world that were long believed to have been first explored and mapped out by the Portuguese.
Intertwined with this story are two other plotlines that explain the map's history and why two governments – the Chinese and the Portuguese – want to get their hands on this artifact.
Early 15th-century cartographer and navigator Ma Zhi is given the tremendous honor of mapping the voyage of Admiral Zheng He. The admiral's mission is to sail around the world to acquire riches and bring glory to the Chinese emperor. When Zheng He's fleet returns, there is a new emperor who wants to destroy all evidence of the voyage, but Ma Zhi is willing to risk his life to preserve the map that he knows can change the course of history.
In late 15th-century Portugal during the Age of Discovery, legendary explorer Vasco Da Gama is tasked with discovering a sea route to India. His navigator, Antonio Coehlo, already possesses a map that shows the route they will take.
This novel is ambitious, given the three interlaced stories, but it lacks the expected suspense. The novel is mired down in details, many of which are not critical to the plot, but most of the characters seem rather flat, especially Mara Coyne. The narrative of Ma Zhi is the most compelling and interesting, and the plot is based on a fascinating theory. Terrell obviously researched her topic meticulously. The Map Thief, on the surface, seems to have so much going for it, but sadly it never fully reaches its potential.