Sometimes you find books in the most unusual ways – a suggestion from a friend, a good review online, a random search on Amazon. I’ve discovered books in all of those ways, and many more, but “30 Pieces of Silver” is the first book I’ve ever found because of Twitter. It was a good find.
One of my favorite authors is James Rollins. At the end of February, he tweeted a recommendation for a book he had just provided a blurb for. That book was “30 Pieces of Silver” by Carolyn McCray. Having enjoyed Rollins’ work in the past, I decided to head over to Amazon and download the first chapter to see if the book was worth reading. It hooked me right away and I quickly found the full-length book hurtling towards my Kindle through the ether.
“30 Pieces of Silver” is probably best classified in the Religious/Thriller/Mystery category made so popular by Dan Brown. Since “The Da Vinci Code” became a worldwide phenomenon, there have been thousands of attempts to replicate it. This book is not one of those. Instead, it is one of the most original and unexpectedly entertaining takes on the Religious/Archeological genre I’ve ever read. I’ve worked my way through my fair share of “what really happened to and/or with Jesus/The Templars/The Masons/The Illuminati” books. I honestly thought I had heard every take on the “real” story of Jesus in fiction. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The book offers two parallel stories – one set in the present day, one set in ancient Israel during the time of Christ. After a bombing at the Eiffel Tower by religious extremists, a cache of ancient skeletons is discovered hidden beneath the rubble – one skeleton covered in writing. Sergeant Vincent Brandt is dispatched with his special forces team to bring Dr. Rebecca Monroe to France. She, along with her former mentor Professor Lochum, are two of the only people who can unravel the clues the bones present. When they discover that the bones are those of James, brother of Jesus, they realize they might have a roadmap to the final resting place of Christ.
The second story follows both Jesus and Judas in ancient Israel. While the story of Judas’ betrayal is well known, “30 Pieces of Silver” looks at the relationship between Judas and Jesus before the crucifixion. It explores the role Judas played in Jesus’ ministry and puts forth an intriguing alternate version of the events of surrounding Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ crucifixion. Some may find it disturbing or controversial – I found it thought provoking and inventive. Remember – it’s just a fictional story.
As both stories develop – Monroe and Brandt find themselves racing against an ancient order known as The Knot. Tasked with protecting the bones of James (and others), the Knot will stop at nothing to preserve their secrets. Following clues across Europe and the Middle East, Monroe and Brandt rush to keep one step ahead of The Knot in their quest to find Jesus’ bones.
Even as I write this, I find I can’t do justice to the scope and breadth of “30 Pieces of Silver”. It is cinematic in its ambition and execution, taking the reader on a well thought out and well written journey. McCray has constructed a fully realized framework for the mythology of “30 Pieces of Silver”. She effortlessly blends disparate historical threads together to form an intricate plot that manages to be epic in scope, without being unwieldy or unnecessarily cumbersome. To put it more succinctly – the story makes sense, it was plausible, and almost all of my questions were answered in the end. (Almost – but not all – there is, after all, a sequel coming.)
McCray writes with a comfortable style and no nonsense dialogue that instantly draws the reader in to the story. Her characters are believable and there is an authenticity in the interactions between the characters that is rewarding to the reader. At the same time – it is an adventure story – so there are moments that are over the top. (My personal favorite was the line – “Then the ceiling bloomed brightly as a dozen cappuccino-brown robed monks rappelled from the roof, wielding silver swords.” I’m quite sure I never expected to read those words, in that particular order, in my lifetime.) The whole thing comes together to provide an engaging and fun read – a smart summer thriller, perfect for the beach or the bedroom.
I talked earlier about the originality of this book. The last three pages of the story rank as one of the most shocking and unexpected conclusions I have ever experienced. I’ve read more books than I can remember and I can honestly say – you could have given me 277 guesses as to how the book would end and I would have never come up with that conclusion. (I would have gotten it in the 278th guess – but only by process of elimination.) I just didn’t see the ending coming. I was speechless – and I can’t think of any better praise to give than that.
I highly recommend “30 Pieces of Silver”. If you are a fan of thrillers, historical fiction, or just plain good stories – you will find familiar ground here. You’ll also find unexpected turns and new perspectives on a genre you may have thought was getting tired. Everything you want from a religious thriller is here – and more. Smart, action-packed, funny – it’s that rare dish that takes three or four ingredients you’ve eaten thousands of times for dinner and combines them into a dish you’ve never tasted before. For my first read based on a Twitter recommendation, I have to say it was a smashing success. Maybe there’s something to this Twitter thing after all.
My Favorite Words from “30 Pieces of Silver”:
“Tasked with keeping civilization’s lights on, Brandt seldom got to actually see them.”
“Rebecca felt her cheeks redden. She didn’t think herself someone to stereotype people, but come on. If Brandt wasn’t the archetypical beefcake, then who was? And who pulls St. Dennis out of their ass? And then is right?”
“Power always sought to snuff out religion for faith was beyond the state’s control.”
© 2011, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.