A piece of parchment is traded in the markets of Cairo. It appears no different from countless others that are sold and bought, often under the counter, in a country steeped in history and archaeological remains. But this fragment has been hunted for centuries, not least by the highest levels of the Vatican, and when a dealer buys it his research triggers a race to recover it. The race leaves in its wake a bloody trail but in pursuit are Angela Lewis, a British Museum expert on 1st century AD pottery, and her ex-husband Chris Bronson, a policeman from Kent. Quite apart from having to avoid violent injury and death from a host of baddies on a hunt across much of Europe and North Africa, Angela and Chris are determined to uncover the reason behind this madness – what does the parchment mean and why is the Vatican so intent on finding it that it would kill to do so?
I am a big fan of mystery thrillers. Escapism is no bad thing at all and, for me, they provide perfect pageturning relief as I move between reads of different genres. Finding writers of good quality mystery thrillers is another matter entirely and while there are some I can always rely on (for example: Simon Toyne, AM Dean, Scott Mariani, Andy McDermott, James Rollins, James Douglas, Dean Crawford, David Gibbins, Jeremy Robinson, Patrick Lee plus the much-missed Michael Crichton and Paul Sussman), it is always good to discover others. I am so glad I read The Lost Testament because now I can add James Becker to the list. As soon as I finished this thriller, I attacked Becker’s backlist and read The Moses Stone and The Messiah Secret back-to-back and have three others ready to go.
Obviously, with a thriller such as this you have to suspend all powers of disbelief. You also have to expect a succession of cliffhanging chapters and twists. As a result, I’m telling you no more of the plot here except to say that the story as it unravels is extremely satisfying and ridiculously exciting! I was glued to The Lost Testament. It’s not a short novel but I read it extremely quickly, resenting anything that kept me from it. It features great locations (as do all Becker’s books that I’ve read), recreated with a lot of realistic colour and detail, and the two heroes – Angela and Chris – are hugely likeable, as a couple with issues and as individuals. They are divorced but clearly this is a relationship in need of fixing itself and this tenderness and care adds a very human and attractive element to the story. Their fragile love for each other is an interesting contrast to the robust relationships (or fiercely single individuals) depicted in other thrillers.
The baddies in The Lost Testament and in the other Becker novels are not entirely straightforward – at least some of them are not. There are reasons for the things they do. They’re nasty but they’re intriguingly nasty.
When all is said and done, The Lost Testament is a thrilling pageturner. It features the Vatican up to no good but I am delighted to say that this is no Dan Brown book. James Becker is a far better writer and although he places us in a similar world of religious conspiracies and dark secrets he does it in a much more readable manner, with main characters that are both appealing and realistic. Clearly, you have to expect to raise an eyebrow or two – how does Bronson get so much time off work and why is the British Museum such a lethal place in which to work? – but if you give in to it and let the fast pace, the exciting plot, the likeable leads and the spot on prose carry you away then you may well have as fabulous a time with this book as I did.
The Lost Testament is published on 7 November. I’ll do a post on James Becker’s backlist once I’ve caught up – which won’t take me too long at all!