Archive for March, 2014

“The Wrestler” Takes On “The Da Vinci Code”

Posted in Book Reviews on March 21, 2014 by onlookerslowdown

The PsalterThe Psalter by Galen Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you enjoy historical fiction, thrillers about hidden secrets, all mixed in with individual drama, then Galen Watson’s “The Psalter” is a fun, fun read. The story switches back and forth between a present-day intrigue that is set in what may well be the last days of the papacy, depending on which prophecy you believe, and an intriguing period of time just before the advent of the Dark Ages, when what would become the modern Church was still very much a fragile institution clinging for all its life to the Italian peninsula, at the mercy of the Holy Roman Empire but also extremely vulnerable to invasions by Muslims from across the Mediterranean Sea.

In the modern section, the story follows Michael Romano, a brawler-turned-priest who also happens to be extremely interested in ancient scriptural texts. A papal secretary is murdered while carrying an ancient psalter. The psalter itself is not particularly valuable until invisible writings are discovered to have been added. An Aramaic (the original language that Jesus spoke) gospel declaring that Jesus had a twin named Thomas appears to have been left on the same page as some of the ancient psalms. And so a chase around Europe begins, involving a lovely translator and her father in Paris, leading up to an explosive confrontation at St. Peter’s in Rome.

The medieval section also follows the trail of these documents which were much more newly heretical — it took the Church a long time to decide which gospels were the true ones — as well as a Muslim plan to take the writings of the Church. There are parallels to the modern characters in this story as well — a lovely young woman who is very skilled at translation, a bishop with whom she forms an impossible relationship, and an elderly father figure who tries to help them both move toward the best.

The historical detail in this novel is its best feature. Creating a realistic sense of the Middle Ages is not easy, but the dusty, dangerous life in that era comes through in each section from the past. The intrigues that plagued the papacy back then, just one of the factors dooming Europe to centuries of darkness, come to life in ways that few stories have taken on.

The plot does wander into the whimsical a bit. The modern story loses focus a bit, as the real motives of the Children of the Book go from conflicting to confusing, but while it takes a few re-readings of the ending to understand where the modern story is heading, this is an interesting tale about dogma, greed and human nature.

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