The Templar Archive (Treasure #2), by James Becker

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, James Becker, and Berkley Publishing Group, and Signet for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

James Becker returns with the second novel in this new Templar series. Picking up soon after the previous novel, The Lost Treasure of the Templars, Robin Jessop and David Mallory face numerous questions by the police when they return to Devon. Three bodies discovered at Jessop’s apartment prove to be only the tip of the iceberg, as the duo provides a detailed narrative about the far-fetched adventures tney faced, culminating with a harrowing escape inside cave in northern Cypress. When they are released from custody, Jessop and Mallory resume their analysis of the Templar treasure box, which serves as the next clue in their ongoing adventure. Left to analysing photos of the box, a methodical examination of the symbols etched on the lid sends them to an ancient French cathedral. Meanwhile, the Ordo Praedicatorum, a Dominican Order working under deep secrecy in the heart of Rome, is taking account of their recent mission. They failed to eliminate Jessop and Mallory, who possess many Templar secrets and remain in possession of a highly revealing Templar parchment, whose messages lead the way to numerous treasures. Having stolen the Templar treasure box from the duo, the Order soon realises that it is empty with no riches in sight. After realising the benefit of using Jessop and Mallory, a team is dispatched to monitor the pair’s progress, reporting back to Rome on a regular basis. When Jessop and Mallory crack another portion of the Templar parchment with another cipher code, they rush from a French cathedral to the heart of Switzerland. Reference in the parchment and based on Mallory’s own knowledge, they surmises that the Templar treasure may have less to do with gold and precious stones than land ownership. The Templars were the originators of the world’s modern banking system and devised the early form of mortgages. The ‘treasure’ is more an archive of land titles and deeds, which the Templars have hidden and whose emergence could lay claim to vast portions of Europe. As they interpret the clues and seek to find the Archives, Jessop and Mallory are followed not only by the Order, but a more and more sinister collective whose interest is unknown to the reader, but whose weaponry is second to none. The hunt for the Archives is a slow and arduous process, one that forces Jessop and Mallory to use their skills and patience as they scour Switzerland. However, finding the Archive is only the beginning, as its revelation to the world could have significant ramifications across Europe; one that the Order would use to their benefit. This is a well-devised follow-up novel that keeps the reader guessing, even with the cliffhanger ending that presupposes at least one more novel to solve the final Templar riddle.

Becker has done well with this new series, offering up an interesting collection of characters and varied settings to keep the readers curious and highly entertained. While this second novel did not seek to hash out character backstories, the apparent romantic connection the protagonists share cannot be missed by the attentive reader. This serves as a slightly hokey aspect of the novel, but it does not distract from the larger narrative. While the opening novel did have significant portions of ‘cat and mouse’ chases, this novel steers away from that and focusses more on the thrill of the treasure hunt, rather than shootings from car windows. The two groups following the duo adds an element of thrill, though it is only the Order that supplies a true competitive aspect, as they are in hot pursuit of our duo in the cave systems. One would be remiss not to mention the significant historical portions that Becker includes in this book. Becker has made a name for himself by exploring religious icons, which he is able to do in the early portions of the novel, namely while Jessop and Mallory stand in a French cathedral. However, as the title suggests, the Templars are central to the story and so knowledge of their movements and personal history is essential. Becker serves this up and weaves it into the story in an effective manner, dropping breadcrumbs throughout and using Mallory to educate the reader. It is just enough for the reader to feel as though they have learned something without an information overload. The chapters propel the book forward, though they are not too fast-paced so as to leave the reader sensing things are too unrealistic. That said, the ‘Swiss’ aspect seems to have come to the forefront and ended in a mere 10 pages, an anticlimactic moment perhaps used to push them off the radar and out of future storylines. It was as though Becker needed a second set of villains, but was running out of time and simply ended their story with a lunch-hour plot diversion. It appears there is a trilogy afoot, which will tie things up nicely, though I cannot see this series lasting for too long, as Becker is already showing signs of impatience with his minor characters, as mentioned above. The book is rich in history, thrills, and just enough drama to keep the reader wondering what is coming next, though pales in comparison to Becker’s novels of old.

Kudos, Mr. Becker for a decent novel. I am curious to see what direction you will take the next novel, while keeping the story fresh.