Author        :  James Rollins

Date of  First Publication : April 26, 2005  (Hardcover)

Publisher    :  William Morrow


Date of  This Edition’s Publication :  May 2006

This Edition’s Publisher  :  Avon Books

ISBN-13:  978-0-06-076524-8

ISBN-10:  0-06-076524-0

No. of pages :   540


The Story :

The story opens with a crash into the year 1152.  Men of the exiled, legitimate  Pope desperately try to defend a holy relic from falling into the hands of the false pope ensconced in Rome.  They succeed.

Fast forward to the present in Cologne :  cold-blooded terrorists garbed in monk’s robes walk into a Catholic mass after the Eucharistic rites, steal the Church’s relic — the bones of the very Magi who had paid homage to the infant Christ at his birth — and leaves behind an entire congregation, dead from electrocution by Communion wafers.

The sacrilegious carnage and theft forces the Vatican to work alongside the Sigma force, an  elite unit of highly educated and specially trained soldiers for organized crime of this magnitude.  Commander Grayson Pierce , three other agents,  a caribinieri lieutenant Rachel Verona, and the Vatican’s own, Monsignor Vigor Verona, form a team to race against time and danger to solve the mystery of the Dragon Court’s deadly interest in the Magi’s bones.

The bones become the first clue which lead the team through an international hunt for clues to a treasure, far greater than anyone had ever known.  To solve the riddles, they must piece historical, religious and scientific knowledge together to unlock ancient secrets, before their adversaries gain the knowledge and purported power of the prize.

The Review :

Whoa!  What a ride!  Shock value and originality in the first few chapters make a strong start with a novel idea for mass murder:  grand scale killing of a Catholic congregation through electrocution with contaminated communion hosts.  A seemingly improbable event but as a beginning, it does grip you to stay with the book and run along with a series of marvelous historical, religious and techno tidbits which the author insists are facts, in his preface.  Such interesting details like Mithraism (an old Roman military religion that has parallels with Christian rites);  existence of the monoatomic state (m-state) of metals;  liquid body armor being developed by the military;  and the Mandylion (the purported true burial shroud of Christ that predates the Shroud of Turin) to name a few,  are dropped like crumbs on a trail for me, the reader, to eagerly lap up and broaden my knowledge on many esoteric matters,  after the story.

In fact,  the book is chock-full of trivia.  The bulging amount is quite distracting and adds more complexity to an already complicated mystery.  On occasion,  I’d wonder how matters came to be from Points A to C.  My attention probably wandered on some detail at point B.  But then, Rollins’ way of incorporating all these factual details keeps one riveted enough to stay on their reading course.

The book is highly driven like one on speed.  The author loves big bangs and surprises and uses these often;  so expect lots of jarring moments from beginning to end.  The hunt’s conclusion, though, seems both rather outrageous and a tad anti-climactic; but since this is escapism, it might do you well to just ride along.

To Read Or Not To Read?

Packing a lot of action, this book may be a good choice to pass the time. Score another for it if you do like books that inform as well as entertain. This is my first Rollins book and it just whetted my appetite for more. It’s quite a rollicking good read, one of those that holds up its end well against books of its type — hunt for ancient artifact adventure / mystery kind of novel.

Oh, there is a bit of romance involved. A weak injection by the author to…? …add more spice?…humanize the lead characters…?… touch on as much elements as he can?…whatever. Although this may annoy some , it doesn’t detract much from the excitement which this book is about.

In A Nutshell :

Map of Bones is quite the speedy suspense slash thriller slash adventure slash mystery it should be, melding the elements of history, religion, and technology, a genre mix that surely must be a James Rollins’ signature.

My Mark : Very Good

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Author :  John Connolly

Release Date : April 25, 2005

“In the crowded killing fields of crime fiction, John Connolly is a unique voice.” — Michael Connelly

Indeed he is.  As my first foray into John Connolly’s work, I am amazed by his ability to elevate crime fiction writing with beautifully crafted prose.  He has a rare knack of weaving elegant, loftily worded paragraphs with contemporary, casually-toned ones.  The result is a smooth read with seamless alterations in moods, without jarring stops and starts, mid-stride.

Black Angel is the fifth novel in a crime series.  The central hero, Charlie Parker,  embroils himself in an investigation over the disappearance of a close friend’s cousin, Alice.  His search leads him to face a horrible truth—the existence of a demonic being known as the Dark Angel, whose lost whereabouts over the centuries have led The Believers, an army of evil men and fallen demons in human guise, to carve a bloody, gruesome trail of death in their search for him.  The Believers is championed by the Dark Angel’s twin, accompanied by a  malevolent soul-eater.

The novel is heavy on the paranormal and the gothic, its inspiration drawn largely from at least three major sources:

a) an Old Testament apocryphal book, The Book of Enoch;

b) the Sedlec ossuary in Czechoslovakia, which as a major setting, appropriately lends the macabre flavor to the story;

(If you’ve never heard of this place, take a peek : )

Official Website

Sterf

Panoramic views of the Bone Church

The Ossuary in Sedlec

c) a controversial Mexican religion venerating the Santa Muerte.

John Connolly’s delightfully detailed historical accounts in this book have probably fired up some readers to learn more about them.  I know they have compelled me to scurry through the internet for my own research.  So midway through the book, I’ve been entertained with a mound of fascinating albeit morbid material on this novel’s inspirations.

The characters are also what make the book interesting.  This particular novel, being the sequel to four others, does not elaborate on the backgrounds of its protagonists; but, you may glean some bits and pieces about them as the story progresses.  Not knowing much about them, though, will not impede anyone’s enjoyment of this book.  However, to know the characters intimately, a new reader to John Connolly would be better served if he were to start from the first in the series, Every Dead Thing.

A lot of credit should also go to the author’s ability to present violence so artistically.   He has an intensely meticulous graphical style that makes his descriptions so vividly crystalline.  Unfortunately, it is precisely this quality that may render the novel too verbose for some readers.   People who prefer a straight-to-the-point manner may be annoyed at being drenched with all that verbiage.

True, the novel could have been a shorter read.   But for readers like me who revel in Connolly’s beautiful phraseologies, there is no such wordiness.  It is a rare treat to find a crime-thriller written with such eloquent and oftentimes almost poetic language; and, an even rarer pleasure to discover one that dared to successfully defy the accustomed patterns of its genre.

My Mark : Excellent

Author : Alice Sebold

Release Date : Sept. 20, 2004

When we see a news story of a murder on T.V., we see the grief stricken family, the outraged community, the promises of a good investigation, etc. What we don’t see is how the family does, day in and day out through the years, after the funeral, the condolences, and way after the media’s spotlight has dimmed. We don’t see how the family struggles to survive emotionally. We forget the incident after a time, but to each member, the tragedy goes on and on until they can come to terms with it, as individuals and as a family unit.

Alice Sebold writes an unusual book around this truth, the story being told by a fourteen year old girl in heaven, after being raped and murdered by a serial killer. From her place in heaven, she follows the lives of her family which collapses on itself through the years, while trying to come to terms with her sudden death. She watches how her dad, mom, sister and brother cope, in their individual way, with their grief, their tragic loss, and the injustice of it all. She also narrates how her death affects her friends and the neighborhood community as a whole.

This book is not about a crime story. The Lovely Bones is a book that deals with human nature. The grief, the anger and the efforts to fight these in different ways are so palpable and touching, and true perhaps for some families who have experienced a tragedy like this one.

Yet the novel is not a complete lament as one sees how the family knits itself back together, perhaps emerging different, as a unit that has grown stronger and healed through forgiveness and acceptance. So Sebold gives this message of hope.

I have to say that despite the theme of death and grief, the book’s atmosphere isn’t so gloomy or bleak. The story is told with a light hand and an elegance that shows how talented the author is. I’m impressed by how she manages to make this novel not end up like a chunk of sadness and hurt.

I thank Alice Sebold for successfully directing our attention and thereby our sensitivities to people who have had to face sudden tragedy. The Lovely Bones certainly deserves its bestseller status.

My Mark : Outstanding