Author: James Becker, 2008.
Genre: Conspiracy Thriller. Religion.
Other Details: Paperback. 480 pages.
A Brutal Murder, A Deadly Conspiracy, A Secret as Old as Time Itself - cover tag line.
The above is a pretty accurate description of this Biblical conspiracy thriller though as its Prologue is set in 67 AD, it's rather inaccurate to claim that the secret is as 'old as 'time itself'.
When Jackie Hampton is found dead with a broken neck at the 600-year old villa outside of Rome that she and her husband Mark have been renovating, it appears that she had fallen on the stairs in the night. Yet the reader is already aware that Jackie had disturbed two men who had broken into the supposedly empty villa and were chipping away at the plaster over its massive fireplace. Having completed their task, they re-plaster the wall and set the scene to ensure that the local police will deem Jackie's death accidental, which indeed they do. The reader also knows that these men were working under the direction of a sinister Cardinal, who runs the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the modern day descendant of the Office of the Inquisition. He will go to any length to prevent the world learning the secret that he and his people are protecting. This includes eliminating any who come into contact with the source material.
Back in England a distraught Mark calls upon his best friend, Chris Bronson, to accompany him to Italy. Chris is a Detective Sergeant in the police and immediately realises that something is wrong and concludes that Jackie was murdered. Used to working crime scenes, Bronson also notices the recent re-plastering and he and Mark uncover the stone, which bears an inscription. Once they manage to get it translated, they find it reads 'Here Lie the Liars'. This discovery places both of them along with Bronson's ex-wife, Angela, who works for the British Museum, in mortal danger. A race against time across Europe ensues. .
I've been a fan of conspiracy thrillers long before Dan Brown hit the best seller lists with 'Angels and Demons', so I am always pleased to find a new author able to weave the historical aspects with the usual traits of the thriller genre. This novel is well researched and draws on the always fascinating history of the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade. Chris Bronson proved an interesting lead as his involvement in the quest is motivated by loyalty to his friends rather than a desire for treasure or knowledge. His background in the police also gives him a different viewpoint and skill set from other protagonists in this kind of thriller. I also liked Angela, who brings her knowledge of ancient artefacts as well as a network of useful boffins to the mix.
This proved a hard book to put down and while not as fast-paced as some in the genre, I rather appreciated this as having characters bouncing about from one dangerous situation to another without taking a breather can be exhausting. Becker's author biography indicates that he served for 20 years in the Royal Navy' and had been involved in covert operations worldwide. This background may account for his skill in writing action sequences that feel very authentic.
So, overall this was a winner for me and I'm certainly planning on reading more in this series.