Howard Books: New York
Twenty years ago, American archaeologists Robert and Margaret Cane and their Bedouin driver, Basim Malik, were tragically killed in a roadside accident east of Jerusalem. Their teenage son Jack and his special young Israeli friend, Lela Raul, were thrown clear and sustained minor physical injuries but emotional scars that would last a lifetime. In addition to the tragic loss of life, a priceless ancient scroll, recently excavated in the Qumran area by the Cane husband and wife team was apparently destroyed in the blazing inferno that was their vehicle.
Now in the present, Jack, who has followed in his parents’ professional footsteps, has discovered another scroll in the Qumran valley, hidden away for millennia in a buried ceramic urn. A cursory view of the opening verses, written in Aramaic for and by the Essenes, a religiously separatist and fundamentalist sect active in first century A.D. Israel, tells of “Jesus the Messiah”—the first such mention of him in the so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls.” But the narrative tells of a Jesus far different from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In fact, it could expose Jesus that would potentially rock the very foundations of Christianity! When the project director of the archaeological dig is found murdered with Jack’s knife, and the scroll disappears, the game is truly afoot. Once the word is out, everyone from the Israeli Mossad, to the Catholic Church to antiquities smugglers are out to gain possession of this incredibly inflammatory document.
At the same time that this drama is playing out in the desert wastes of Israel, the Conclave of Cardinals in Rome has named Cardinal John Beckett the new Pope. As a young priest, Beckett had participated in the ill-fated Holy Land dig directed by Robert and Margaret Cane twenty years earlier. In his statement to the Conclave, he electrifies the assembled nobility of the Church by promising a new openness and transparency in the operations of the Vatican—very possibly because he has lived with a sense of excruciating guilt for the past two decades.
Since Dan Brown unleashed The Da Vinci Code on an unsuspecting population nearly a decade ago, there have been countless thrillers penned that pose questions concerning religious orthodoxy and shadowy conspiracies—usually hatched by the Roman Catholic Church and/or Islamic fundamentalists. A few of these are pretty good and many more are simply terrible, if not blatantly prejudiced and pernicious. Glenn Meade has written a good, solid thriller with a plotline that is for the most part plausible and does not require a total suspension of disbelief, protagonists that are at the same time heroic yet vulnerable and believable, and villains that are complex and multi-dimensional.
Meade also remembers that he is writing a thriller, and not an esoteric treatise on religion; the action is well-paced, especially a thrilling hid and seek chase through the ancient tunnels and catacombs beneath modern day Rome.
This is a well-written, well-researched and fun weekend read, whether on a beach or in front of a winter fire. Three trowels for Glenn Meade’s The Second Messiah.