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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Blood of Alexander by Tom Wilde

February 1, 2015

Forge Books:  New York City
2014 (HC)

As a young archaeology student, he was imprisoned, beaten and tortured in a hellish Central American lock-up on a trumped-up drug running charge.  And then all of a sudden he was free and he became a new man—literally.  He was given a new name – Jonathan Blake—and a completely new identity.  He was trained as a warrior and taught the skills of a master thief—and became an operative for the Argo Foundation, an institution founded and run by the enigmatic Nicholas Riley and dedicated to the preservation of the world’s historical heritage.  To put it succinctly, Blake stole artifacts from tomb robbers, looters, and shady antiquities collectors of all stripes and returned them to rightful owners or legitimate museums and collections.

After a brush with Afghan bandits led by the redoubtable Yusef Mohammed, Blake returns to Argo’s home base in New York City, only to be summoned by Nicholas Riley to a meeting in the Rose Room of the Metropolitan Museum.  The apparent guests of honor are the inscrutable Mr. Jonas, representing an unnamed government intelligence agency, and his associate, the sultry Caitlin Street.  Mr. Jonas needs an operative with special “skills” and one of his agency’s “intelligence assets”—Yusef Mohammed – has recommended Blake!  Jonas offers background then on one James Phillip Vanya, the L. Ron Hubbard-like founder and Leader of the Children of Cronos, a religious cult that, along with other dogma, teaches that modern man was genetically manipulated into being by visitors from other worlds in the distant past.  Meanwhile it is known that the extremely wealthy and reclusive Mr. Vanya has been investing vast amounts of money in genetics research.    A tenuous but credible link between the Children of Cronos and Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese sect responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway has brought the U.S. government’s anti-terrorism community to full alert.   Jonas’s agency fears that Vanya and his followers are in the process of producing deadly chemical and/or biological weapons.

Vanya has shown an obsessive interest in acquiring an artifact—a gilded eagle flag finial belonging to Napoleon’s army—that had been part of the plunder in art objects stolen from Boston’s Gardner Museum in 1990.  Working with Caitlin Street, Blake is to go undercover as an art expert and lay an elaborate sting operation in Paris that will result in Vanya’s arrest for receiving stolen property before he can commit any real atrocities—a variation on the arrest of Al Capone on tax evasion when it was in reality the racketeering and murders that made him America’s Most Wanted.  Much to his surprise—and chagrin—Blake is “loaned” to the U.S. government by Nick Riley and the Argo Foundation, and finds himself winging his way to Paris with his new undercover “wife” Caitlin and a rendezvous with Vanya and a seemingly non-descript 19th century artifact.

But things quickly go sideways for Blake and Caitlin and what follows is a wild chase through some of France’s historic landmarks and on to a Vanya’s island stronghold and finally on to Corsica and the link between Napoleon and Vanya’s ultimate objective:  the remains of Alexander the Great.  The megalomaniac believes that he can become the next great Conqueror and he will stop at nothing to achieve those mad dreams.

This is rollicking high adventure at its best.  This is Tom Wilde’s first—we’ll assume there will be more Jonathan Blake adventures—novel and it pushes all the right buttons:  interesting and sympathetic protagonists, loathsome bad guys, an absurdly imaginative plot, snatches of humor, and faithful and accurate descriptions of historic places and architecture that lend plausibility to the story.  Mr. Wilde only let me down once—when he identified Teotihuacan as a Mayan city, but I’ll forgive him that because overall The Blood of Alexander was such great, good fun!

Three trowels for Jonathan Blake’s first adventure.