|Steve Berry is well known for his integration of historical fact into fast moving thrillers. “For 500 years historians have pondered the question Who was Christopher Columbus? The answer is simply another question: Who do you want him to be?” Anonymous observer quoted in this book.
Tom Sagan, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and a household name, now lives discredited, stripped of his many awards and survives financially as a ghostwriter of best-selling novels. Emotionally, he is literally about to pull the trigger when Zachariah Simon interrupts the suicide attempt by forcing his way into the house.
Simon is a fanatical zealot who, armed with his billions, intends to restore glory to a very contested piece of real estate in Jerusalem, and is in search of the “Temple Treasure” taken nearly 2000 years ago from the Jews. At gunpoint he shows Tom a video of his daughter bound, guarded and then groped by captors. He offers her release for Tom’s signature on a petition to reopen his father’s grave.
Tom converted from Judaism to Christianity upon his marriage, and having failed at that as well, he divorced and lost the love and respect of his daughter Alle. To save her he agrees, but unbeknownst to him she is part of the plot; having found in Simon a father figure acquired through his relentless efforts to ingratiate himself with her, after he read one of her scholarly articles about Columbus.
Positing that Columbus was a Jew fleeing Spain with the probable intent of finding a welcoming homeland, and with the temple treasures to keep them from the Spanish, she inadvertently presented Simon with a course of action. Simon had entered into partnership with Ben Rowe a Jamaican crime lord interested in his money and in his ancestors, the Maroons. Rowe is busy trying to find the lost gold mine of Columbus thought to have been found in Jamaica on his fourth voyage.
The novel is rich with many aspects of Judaism…the history, beliefs, rituals and customs…artfully presented as they are needed for plot development. Tom’s father was a Levite and by custom a keeper of the Temple and its treasures. Alle knows that a packet of papers had been buried with her beloved grandfather and it is this data Simon is seeking.
Tom, with a little more backbone than Simon credits him with, refuses to tender the packet at the grave reopening. This sets in motion Tom’s struggles against Simon and his daughter, Rowe’s clashes with his partner Simon, as the pace quickens taking place in the US, Austria, Prague, Jamaica, and the Middle East.
As the geographical shifts are made, the background data and information about these sites greatly enhance the story without interrupting the flow of this very complex plot. The characters, for the most part, are hard to like, dialog is predictable, the writing is simplistic, but the story itself, enriched with historical and religious facts, has resulted in a hard novel to put down. And in the author’s note at the end, Berry painstakingly separates fact from his fiction, an effort this reviewer greatly appreciates.