Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction, and the Vulnerable Bible

(2015) Paul Christopher, Secret of the Templars (Berkeley/Penguin)

For more on Paul Christopher, the pseudonym of Christopher Hyde, see my discussion of his earlier Gospel Thriller, The Lucifer Gospel. After completing his quartet of novels featuring the brilliant young archeologist Finn Riley, Christopher launched into a series of "Templar" novels whose hero is a retired U.S. soldier named John "Doc" Holliday. Secret of the Templars is the ninth and, it seems, final novel in this shoot-'em-up, fast-paced, global thriller series. The body count, and the graphic nature of the killings, is notable in this novel as "Doc" travels through Europe and Asia, where he has money and guns hidden throughout.

The secret gospel at the heart of this novel is something of a MacGuffin. It certainly exists, and for much of the novel is being patiently unrolled, photographed, and translated by a rogue paleographer in a studio in Paris (before he is graphically and brutally murdered). "Doc" is on the hunt for this gospel because his niece and her husband died looking for it on a dig near the Dead Sea. Contextual clues provided throughout the novel give a sense of the contents of the novel, even though the paleographer makes little headway on actually transcribing and translating it.

The gospel's true value in the novel is as a valuable chess piece in international games of south Asian opium smuggling and laundering of stolen art from the Vatican. At one point, a rival gang lord in Mumbai steals the gospel and trades it to Mullah Omar (who was actually dead by the time the novel was published) to gain control of the Afghani opium supply. In a surprising twist, Omar—who wants to end Afghanistan's dependence on opium—gives the gospel to "Doc."

At the end of the novel "Doc" hands the gospel, still largely untranslated, over to officials at the Israel Museum to reside with the other Dead Sea Scrolls. "Doc," who has been variously tracking and hiding from the "Templars" throughout the series, is able to come out of hiding.

Heroes: John "Doc" Holliday, ex-army hero of "Templar" series, living off the grid using the wealth given to him by the last Templar; Peter Lazarus, a rogue Interpol agent who tracks stolen art
Villains: Every single Western intelligence agency, including rogue units within intelligence agencies (only the US military intelligence service is on the side of the good guys); Propaganda Due (Vatican-related spy ring); "Operation Leonardo," a global art and money laundering scheme involving international gangsters and Western intelligence agencies 
Gospel: A seemingly authentic scroll with the truth about Jesus switching places with Judas and traveling East after the faux resurrection

I have found no print reviews yet of this book. 
Goodreads and Amazon reviews on average enjoyed the book, but many noted its frenzied and sometimes careless plotting. Two blog reviews both despair of the novel as  "tepid" and "a bit frantic." 

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