The Shroud Conspiracy (The Shroud #1), by John Heubusch

Eight stars

John Heubusch only crossed my radar during a recent trip to the library, where I noticed this interesting religious thriller. Always up for something that turns accepted religious fact on its head, I leapt at the chance to read this book and expand my knowledge base. Dr. Jon Bondurant is a world-renowned forensic anthropologist whose explorations and debunking of Christian relics has helped assign him the title of Vatican Enemy Number One. After years of trying to get permission to run tests of the Shroud of Turin, Vatican sources finally agree, though their regulations and demands are quite lengthy. The Shroud, said to be the cloth used to wrap Jesus Christ’s body after his crucifixion, has long been a controversial relic and never surfaced until the Middle Ages. Earlier tests disproved its authenticity, though new technology could offer an answer once and for all, thereby elevating the Shroud to new heights. Dr. Bondurant assembles some of the world’s best in their fields to examine various aspects of the Shroud, including a recent Nobel Prize winner whose work in ancient DNA has created a buzz around the scientific world. When the team arrives in Turin, they are met by Domenika Jozef, a Polish-born Vatican representative whose devout views clash with most of what Bondurant posits. During some of the key tests, Bondurant and Jozef come across proof that neither could have predicted, turning what may once have been rumour into all but concrete proof. Working on such a high-intensity project, Bondurant and Jozef are pushed together to the point that the tension becomes too much, though the playboy scientist makes his hasty escape before things get too real. While planning the final report for the world and Vatican, all aspects of Shroud analysis come together, though there is an anomaly with the blood analysis and a DNA chain that could not have been expected makes its way into the results. However, there may be more than science at play here, as a religious sect has been poking around and trying to use the services of this Nobel laureate to facilitate their plans for human cloning. As the world reacts to the Shroud news, there could be something equally earth shattering in store, as Domenika Jozef has gone missing. Heubusch creates much hype with this stellar opening novel in the series and leaves readers gasping with the ending, as they rush to find the sequel. Fans of a good religious thriller may enjoy this, though it is not recommended for the truly devout who wish not to have the Catholic Church knocked of its self-developed pedestal.

When it comes to books that seek to debunk religious tenets, there are many out there. It would seem that the Catholic Church, more specifically the Vatican, takes it on the nose when authors try to pry loose fact from faith-based fallacy, at least in the world of fiction. However, while some novels have earned their authors much success, it is difficult to find something entirely unique and yet interesting to a large cross-section of readers. Heubusch has succeeded, marrying science to a well-known Christian relic and churning out this highly entertaining novel. He has developed a lovely collection of characters that find ways to link themselves with the reader as the story progresses, without becoming too far fetched or standoffish. Jon Bondurant and Domenika Jozef prove not only to be two wonderful protagonists, but clash so completely as to complement one another perfectly. One is rooted in fact and refuses to make strong personal connections while the other finds solace in her faith and seeks deep personal connections. Together, they offer the reader a wonderful means of seeing the narrative through two lenses, both of which are highly enthralling. The remaining cast fits in nicely, be they scientists, religious scholars, or sect members pushing a newfangled set of beliefs, all of whom add flavour and intensity to an already exciting narrative. Heubusch has crafted them perfectly and the reader cannot help but get lost in the well-grounded perspectives offers throughout the novel,. The narrative does get bogged down at times with details regarding Christian history, Catholic dogma, and the sciences of analysis, but I surmise that the story would not be as captivating with only superficial discussions of these topics. Heubusch has surely taken the time to get everything in order, creating the equivalent to a well-oiled machine before letting the reader make their own decision. With as quick pace throughout and some subplots that are sure to become central arguments in the sequel, Heubusch ends this opening novel with a stunning revelation, one that could rock Christianity to its core, should it come to pass. Then again, it’s always fun to weaken a foundation and see how the tenets withhold the impact, no?

Kudos, Mr. Heubusch, for a great piece that keeps the reader hooked. I am rushing to get my hands on the sequel so that I, too, can learn how all this plays out.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: