** The Last Templar, Raymond Khoury, 2005
Back in the 90s I read The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco's first novel. It was great. So I read his second, Foucault's Pendulum. It's a mesmerizing maisma of counterfiet conspiracy theories disturbingly come to life, in a sort of Our Man In Havana fashion, only with bigger words. And, as all good conspiracy books do, it harkened back to the Templars. In fact, Khoury gives a nod to Eco on page 74.
"You know what Umberto Eco said, right?" "No." "'A sure sign of a lunatic is that sooner or later, he brings up the Templars.'"
Liking what Eco did with the Templar vibe, I saw this book on the bargain rack in a weak moment and thought perhaps I'd give it a whirl. To cut to the chase, it's not as bad as The DaVinci Code, but it doesn't miss by much.
Khoury is no Eco, but then, who is? Even so, New York Times bestseller status notwithstanding, a book that uses the world clambered even once is suspect. When it uses it somewhere around a dozen times, occasionally twice on the same page, we're talking about some regrettable writing.
On page 14 my fears were confirmed when I read this paragraph about Tess, the female lead:
People just noticed her, period. They always had. And who could blame them. The seductive mass of curls that framed the warm green eyes that radiated intelligence usually triggered it. The healthy thirty-six-year-old frame that moved in relaxed, fluid strides confirmed it, and the fact that she was totally oblivious to her charms sealed it. It was too bad she'd always fallen for the wrong guys.
Well, of course she did. And why wouldn't she? Doesn't everyone? Especially female protagonists in romance novels and conspiracy thrillers? And then this on the next page.
She could hear traces of chamber music and tracked it to an all-female string quartet tucked away in a corner, sawing away energetically but almost inaudibly at their instruments.
And if Tess can be unreasonably beautiful while falling for the wrong guys, why couldn't the quartet be "sawing away" at their instruments? Why, indeed?
Despite such a discouraging beginning, I clambered through the whole freaking thing, all 523 pages. It's a story of religious fraud and a massive secret suppressed for centuries by the Catholic church that could destroy Christianity as we know it. Hmm. Where have I heard that before?
Add in a 20-page exposition on the Templars 1/4 of the way through, a 30-page religious argument 3/4 the way through, and a purple storm sequence worthy of the opening pages of The Bourne Identity, and what's not to like?
***SPOILER ALERT. But the thing that annoyed me as much as the writing, if not more, was the main message. Suppose an authentic historical document were discovered that conclusively and indisputably proved that Jesus, by his own admission, was just a man with some good ideas and that the Church invented the Son of God idea to retain power over the masses. The conclusion of the book is that if such a document were discovered, it would be better to destroy it and let the world continue to believe a lie. Devout Christians (in this case, the male protagonist and a cardinal from the Vatican) and agnositics who see the good the church does (the female protagonist) would endorse such an action. I may be completely delusional, here, but I think that most devout Christians are seekers after truth and would rather deal with the truth than base their life on a lie. Well, I would at any rate, so the premise did not ring true with me. SPOILER ALERT***
If you're stuck on a plane for several hours and you find this crammed between the seats, it would be a toss up between reading it or catching some sleep. Your mileage may vary.