While there is something to be said for the argument that another thriller touting conspiracies about the life and death of Jesus and his disciples is as unwelcome as a gift-wrapped artichoke, The Dead Sea Deception manages to soar above these doubts, breathing new spirit into a clichéd genre. There are several reasons for this – not least Adam Blake’s excellent writing and plotting skills – but chief among them for me are the two leads: mercenary Leo Tillman and London police officer Heather Kennedy. Neither character is perfect, in fact both are deeply flawed, with demons on their shoulders, but their determined, painful progress to uncover the truth is compelling and disturbing.
Tillman is a mercenary with a mission of his own – to discover the fate of his wife and two sons who disappeared 13 years ago. Kennedy is an unpopular cop, tormented by her colleagues for something in her past, now tasked with looking after dead end cases. Both are thrown together by the clues left behind from the murder of an academic, well-known for his work with an obscure Dead Sea Scrolls document, the Rotgut Codex. Tillman and Kennedy uncover a trail of victims, all involved in deciphering the Codex, which, it becomes clear, hides something that would not only threaten the place of Christianity in our past but its revelation could put the future of a great many people at risk.
From its opening pages on a field strewn with the debris and horrors of a plane crash, The Dead Sea Deception follows clues across Britain, the US and into Mexico, bringing Tillman and Kennedy closer together as they realise that this case may hold the answer to the mystery that has plagued Tillman for years. And, all the time, Kennedy and Tillman are persecuted by previous colleagues as well as pursued by a succession of obsessed almost supernatural strangers who defy pain and weep tears of blood.
The Dead Sea Deception entertains as a thriller should. The mystery surrounding the Codex and the origin and motivation of the men and women with bloody tears is enough to keep you turning the pages fast, but Heather Kennedy is a deeply intriguing heroine. She suffers almost in silence and we just pick up on little pieces of her pain. The revelations about her character and about her place in the police force aren’t handed to us on a plate – they require interest on our part to pick up. There are moments in her story that made my heart pound and there aren’t too many thrillers that can move me to tears on a bus.
Likewise, Leo Tillman is introduced to us in a shocking manner and there are points in the story when he is driven to the depths of despair. Not that we are allowed to intrude too much. Adam Blake is careful with his characters; he treats them with respect. I’m pleased to say that even the baddies are permitted a certain amount of ambivalence in their portrayal. There are undertones of horror in the background too. This is a world in which ghosts could walk.
There is a sensationalist element but when the writing’s as good as this and the characters are as intriguing, it’s not too much of a hardship to surrender to it. It’s always good to discover a new author who writes intelligent thrillers and so I was delighted to learn that Kennedy and Tillman will return – The Demon Code will be published in August this year.