Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: The Genesis Secret

People get so excited about novels that venture into the world of religion.  The uproar over The DaVinci Code was immense (though one could gauge its success by the number of books published as a "response" or "rebuttal").  People forget that "fiction" can be translated to mean "making it all up, no matter how many real elements one injects into the story, like in Fargo, the Coen brothers movie."

So, should anyone get excited about The Genesis Secret?

If so, it's entirely unnecessary.  The fact that it's a novel rather than a news story never escapes the reader at any time.  At the beginning of the book, debut novelist Tom Knox states two true elements of the story: the existence of an archeological site and a religious group.  The foundation of the story is realistic  — tension, politics, religious issues, public safety responses — but the character-based story never enters the realm of realism for me.  And that makes me glad.

Two storylines of two main characters weave through this novel, creating a strong cord to tie it all together.  Journalist Robert Luttrell is recovering from a terrible experience in Iraq and his boss sends him on a plum assignment extended as a sort of vacation: go to Kurdistan to report on a famous archeological dig, the Gobekli Tepe.  Scotland Yard's Mark Forrester finds himself investigating bizarre murders and murder attempts in the U.K. that appear to be sacrifices — but to whom, and why?

Franz Breitner heads the Gobekli Tepe dig, which is unearthing a huge temple-like area that was deliberately and laboriously buried (and carbon-dated at) thousands of years before the "first civilizations" in the Fertile Crescent.  If tools and agriculture at Gobekli Tepe pre-date known history, what does that mean for the timeline of human development?  Even more pressing, what prompted a people to laboriously bury this indicator of advanced civilization?

The site and its workers appear to be threatened, or is it simply paranoia of Europeans traveling in the Middle East?  Then an accident at the dig site prompts Rob to work with Christine, an osteoarchaeologist who has no bones to study at the site, to determine if someone is behind this — and if so, who and why.

There's enough evidence to suggest there are secrets being guarded in one part of the world, while someone else on the other side of the globe is trying to unearth the very same information.  Who will win, and who will lose more than just a little information?

Other interesting characters flesh out the story: Boijer the Finnish Scotland Yard officer, Isobel with an incredible Turkish home, Franz and his cryptic notes, Hugo and his intelligence and lungs, Karwan and his helpfulness, Steven and his Cockney accent, Kiribali's menacing presence.

There were some characters I could have done without, and a couple of details that were unessential to the story.  Rob and Forrester's mutual connection was completely unnecessary and added nothing to the story or characters; in fact, Forrester's situation was gratuitous.

Finally, Knox reveals too much too soon, leaving readers to wonder exactly why they need to keep reading.  We think we see the Genesis Secret halfway through the book, though I can tell you there's more, thank heavens.  Frankly, the direction the story took after the Big Reveal was narrowly focused on a single character (maybe two),which was too restrictive for this expansive of a story.  I nearly stopped with nearly a quarter of the novel left because it seemed the most important part of the story had been told.

However, the second-to-last chapter saved the entire book, and I'm grateful for journalists who know how to tie together the elements of a story.  Alas, Rob made leaps with facts that weren't revealed to readers, and I hate having characters hiding information until the author writes their "big epiphany."

Finally, readers who don't like blood and gore should absolutely pass on this book.  There are scenes that describe cruelty beyond measure, and though it's essential to this story, it is very very difficult to read.

Having said that, it's suspenseful, original and interesting, and I can recommend it.

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