James Becker is well-known for his religious symbolism series, which captivated readers for years. Turning things towards the Knights Templars, the author begins a new series that seeks to mix Templar lore and a fast-paced adventure, with just enough mystery to keep things unpredictable. After coming into a collection of old books, antiquarian bookseller Robin Jessop comes across a unique item with an odd Latin phrase stencilled on the front, Ipse Dixit. Jessop turns to the Internet for possible meanings, which might also help her learn how to open this book safe, which looks as if it might have survived many a century. While the phrase offers only a vague translation, Jessop works to uncover the contents of the safe, soon realising that there are significant safety measures to protect a small parchment, covered with a coded message. Turning to her buyers’ list, Jessop discovers David Mallory, whose personal interests might help with the decoding process. He agrees to meet her and is intrigued with the challenge he has for her. They begin looking into ciphers to decode the message, which becomes a complex game of trial and error. Meanwhile, the searches for Ipse has triggered much interest amongst a small group in Rome with ties to the Catholic Church, which turns the wheels in motion and makes Jessop a major target. Rome dispatches a group of tough-looking Italians, acting on behalf of a religious order, which creates a dust-up with Jessop and Mallory. Leaving a few bodies in their wake, the pair rush off, beginning a cat and mouse game as they seek to further decipher this parchment while bullets fly in their direction. After discovering an odd marking amongst the text, Mallory brings his experience with all things Templar to the parchment, and the code soon flows. The revealed message leads them out of England and back seven centuries, where a Templar treasure may be hidden. Jessop and Mallory seek to remain one step ahead of their pursuers, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the treasure and kill anyone who may know too much about this secret. Intuition and determination lead the pair to discover a treasure trove, but they are not alone, as Rome has dispatched more sentries to do their bidding. This begins more explosive adventures, spanning centuries, allowing Jessop and Mallory to continue their partnership. A interesting start to a new series that is surely to take readers on many fast-paced adventures.
Interest in the Templars seems to have spiked in recent years, at least as I scan the titles of some of my favourite authors. I seem to have an affinity for the topic and have dabbled into some of their history, though most of it seems to repeat the same monumental tales of their capture and executions. Becker does a great job in this opening book, by opening up the Templar history to be more diverse and look further back. He utilises this history while allowing the reader to see that Templar lore extended outside of England and France. Additionally, there are significant discussions surrounding code breaking and cipher usage, both from the 14th century and up to the present day, which enriches the narrative and pushes the plot along. While there is nothing overly unique about either Robin Jessop or David Mallory, Becker does provide them with some interesting backstories, which will certainly become more useful as the series continues. I was concerned during parts of the novel, as the story seemed to focus primarily on an over-used theme, that of ‘person or persons with knowledge of a secret held by the Church are chased by individuals seeking to keep it under wraps’. While there is a significant portion of the book that turns into a collection of chase scenes, Becker is able to keep this from subsuming the larger narrative and does offer at least a little excitement, offset with code breaking within. Becker also keeps things interesting with a quasi-cliffhanger ending, which flows nicely into what is sure to come in the second novel.
Kudos, Mr. Becker for this interesting opening novel. I hope to see you keep exploring some of the Templar history and offsetting it with even more (though unique) excitement for Jessop and Mallory.