Book #59

The Virgin of the Wind Rose by Glen Craney

While investigating the murder of an American missionary in Ethiopia, rookie State Department lawyer Jaqueline Quartermane becomes obsessed with a magical word square found inside an underground church guarding the tomb of the biblical Adam.
Drawn into a web of esoteric intrigue, she and a roguish antiquities thief named Elymas must race an elusive and taunting mastermind to find the one relic needed to resurrect Solomon's Temple. A trail of cabalistic clues leads them to the catacombs of Rome, the crypt below Chartres Cathedral, a Masonic shaft in Nova Scotia, a Portuguese shipwreck off Sumatra, and the caverns under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Intertwined with this modern mystery-thriller, a parallel duel is waged:
The year is 1452. One of the most secretive societies in history, Portugal's Order of Christ, is led by a reclusive visionary, Prince Henry the Navigator. He and his medieval version of NASA merged with the CIA scheme to foil their archenemies, the Inquisitor Torquemada and Queen Isabella of Castile, who plan to bring back Christ for the Last Judgment by ridding the world of Jews, heretics, and unbelievers.
Separated by half a millennium, two conspiracies to usher in the Tribulations promised by the Book of Revelation dovetail in this fast-paced thriller to expose the world's most explosive secret: The true identity of Christopher Columbus and the explorer's connection to those now trying to spark the End of Days. 

If you found the above blurb lengthy and confusing, you're going to have a hell of ride with this one. Filled with religious and historical detail, almost painfully so, this novel takes us on a mission of intrigue towards the End of Days.

Almost two books in one, we see Jacqueline Quartermane, a devout Christian and American lawyer, try to make sense of the death of her fiancé in Ethiopa, after finding out his reasons for being there weren't quite as honest as Christian as he had maintained. Parallel to this, we're transported to the Portuguese 1400s, see the Inquisition begin to rise, and follow the paths of three squires enrolled into a secret society. Both paths begin to intertwine and make sense of each other, despite the separation of time.

The writing was impeccable, and kept my attention mercilessly. Craney weaves his mysteries expertly, with plenty of twists and surprises along the way. There was always a perfectly positioned clue to move the plot along, and Craney never patronised his readers by explaining their meaning too clearly.

My main issue was with the immense level of detail involved in the story. Craney is clearly incredibly intelligent, and has vastly researched his stuff. For me, it became difficult to keep track of names, symbols, relics, and even where the characters were in the world at any particular time. The changing landscape of the plot happened so quickly, that although it moved the plot on wonderfully, I was plunged into confusion often. I believed this to be down to my slim knowledge of religion, the Columbus era, and the Knights Templar, but now I realise it was just a tonne of information being cannonballed my way, and I wasn't able to catch it all.

This is a long haul of a book, and you have to ensure you're alert, and ready to interpret the next clue. Despite its length, it's a fast-paced torrential whirlwind of information. Some suspension of belief is required, however Craney's clear historical and religious facts make up for it.

One for fans of historical and religious mystery, but mainly one for fans of cryptography - hopefully you'll have more success with your own grey matter than I did with mine.