4.5 stars out of 5
When I see books compared to multi-million dollar sellers, the hair on the back of my neck starts to curl; never yet have I found one that justified those claims. So when the author wrote to ask if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing this one - and I saw "If you love Dan Brown..." - my first instinct was to run the other way. But the fact is, the subject matter intrigued me (yes, I've loved all the Brown books). And when I learned the author, like me, is a native Hoosier, well, how could I say no?
Now that I've finished, I'm delighted to say I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The story begins as Jaqueline Quartermane, a relatively young, attractive (and uber-Christian) U.S. State Department lawyer, learns that her missionary fiance has been killed in Ethiopia. Amazingly unemotional under the circumstances, she decides to fight, not mourn; off she hops on a plane to go investigate. There, she meets up with a relatively young, attractive Jewish antiquities thief. They hit if off, although almost in the literal sense; being wanted by the law she can forgive, but his being a Jew turned atheist? Not so much.
Having little choice if she wants to get to the truth, she agrees to team up, and that takes them on an eventful, sometimes life-threatening journey to several ages-old countries as they try to solve the mysteries of ancient markings and thwart a religious conspiracy that could jeopardize the world as they know it.
As all this takes place, readers are reminded of the subtitle; at the heart here is the "real" story of Christopher Columbus and his voyages to the New World. Chapters shift back and forth from the days of his youth-to-adult life and the present day, slowly bringing together the connection of the secrets of Columbus to the present-day attempt to show the world that the promised Messiah of the Apocalypse has arrived.
The excellent writing held my attention throughout, and I got an extra kick here and there out of some really great lines: A burly old barkeep's grin, for instance, "could have been the model for a warning poster in a dental office." By profession, I'm a writer/editor - but writing like this reminds me that while I love reading fiction, never in a million years would I even attempt to produce anything that can't be corroborated with facts. But since I'm never without my editing hat (and I'm a stickler for such things), I have to note I ran into an occasional typo and even an entire repeated paragraph.
For others who may be interested in reading this book (and - dare I say it - if you love Dan Brown you should give it a go), I also offer the following advice:
Allow plenty of time. Put another way, this ain't a James Patterson; you won't be able to skim through it; the detail is endless and borders on excruciating. Fairly early on, I gave up trying to remember much of anything except the characters' names (and even that was a tough go because several of them hail by more than one). A little of that, I admit, is attributable to my advanced age; hey, I routinely can't find where I put my glasses, so how could I possibly expect to recall that an inverted "S" with a colon next to it signifies that what follows is to be interpreted exactly the opposite of what it says? Instead, I relied (rightfully) on the author to provide the "connections" that led to the somewhat surprising ending.
Keep an open mind. If nothing else, this book is about religious history - rooted in fact, yes, but also in folk lore and the author's vivid imagination. So if you're a Christian Bible literalist as is our heroine Jaqueline - "I believe that every word of scripture happened just as it was written," she huffs at one point - be prepared to get your panties in a wad now and again.
The Virgin of the Wind Rose: A Christopher Columbus Thriller by Glen Craney (Brigid's Fire Press, October 2013); 407 pp.