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Navarro, Julia - 'The Bible of Clay' (translated by Andrew Hurley)
Paperback: 512 pages (Apr. 2008) Publisher: John Murray ISBN: 0719562481

You might think after reading the blurb on the back cover of this book, that it was merely a story of a search for hidden treasure but that would be a terrible mistake. Yes, it is a description of a hunt for a treasure of sorts, but this brilliant book is much, much more besides.

An archaeologist gives an unscheduled lecture in Rome, where she describes how her German grand-father had discovered many years previously, two lost tablets of clay upon which were inscribed in ancient writing, an introduction to the Genesis Story, as told to a scribe named Shamas by the ancient prophet Abraham, and which was as recorded in the Old Testament. Clara Tannenburg, the archaeologist, says the tablets were located in an area of Iraq which, if the present international pressures against Saddam Hussein did not succeed, could easily come under bombardment by the American Forces. So as Clara believes there are definitely more tablets (a whole Bible of Clay in fact) located in the precise location of the ones she has exhibited photographs of, she plans to organise an archaeological "dig" at the site as swiftly as possible, before the Americans drop their bombs. Are there any volunteers? If the Bible of Clay is located, it would prove that the Old Testament of the Bible was not just some ancient stories but historical fact.

What Clara doesn't mention is that her grandfather was an SS Officer who stole the tablets from the original discoverers, after he had killed them. He then went on to take command of a Concentration Camp and some of the tortures and killings of the poor unfortunates there, are recounted in horrific detail.

Some archaeologists who attended the lecture are incredulous about Clara's descriptions, but are sufficiently intrigued about other aspects of such an exploration and sign up for it. The lecture gets into the Italian press and details of the name of the lecturer are given, which attracts the attention of some former prisoners of her grandfather, Alfred Tannenburg. They are now wealthy businessmen living in several European countries and they rendezvous and plot to hire killers to assassinate Alfred and his family. One of the former prisoners in Rome, goes to a confessional in St Peter's Basilica and asks the priest for forgiveness for a murder that is to be committed against Clara Tannenburg. That priest, mindful that he cannot reveal the confidences of the confessional decides to ask his superiors for a leave of absence to follow Clara to Iraq, to protect her from her potential murderer. Conveniently, he happens to have studied a lot of ancient languages as well as theology, so he can offer his services as a translator.

Between the discussion of these plot strands, we switch back in time to Ancient Iraq where the Scribe Shamas is begging Abraham or Abram as he is known also, to tell him the story of Genesis.

All of these plot lines are told in a very skilful and engaging way and the timely excavation of the dig is described very well. There is the added pressure of the declining health of the grandfather of Clara, who is dying of cancer and the imminent invasion of Iraq by the American Forces.

The build up of all of these parts of the plot lead up to a very satisfying finale. This book is quite lengthy, but such is the superior quality of the writing of this book that there isn't a wasted word and I did not want it to end. I would definitely consider it one of the best books I've read this last year.

Read another review of THE BIBLE OF CLAY.

Terry Halligan, England
January 2009

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 18/10/2009 10:18