Becker, James - 'The First Apostle'
This is an utterly spellbinding book. The plot is stunning and breathtaking and leaves you racing to the end to find out if your suspicions are correct. Mine were. I was left shattered and stunned at how everything turned out.
The book, which is extremely well-written and uses a clever mixture of fact as well as fiction, opens with the gruesome crucifixion of a prisoner in the days of the Roman Empire. When you have recovered from the agony you go through alongside this poor soul, you are thrown into the tent of Vespasian, a commanding general in the Roman army, with another prisoner. This one is an elderly man who proceeds to protest his innocence. Under the direction of Nero himself, Vespasian offers his prisoner the choice of either writing a signed confession and being sent to Rome to be put to the sword, or to be crucified immediately. He chooses the former but in so doing utters a few phrases that leave you gasping and anxious to find out if he is who you think he is.
Having set the scene in a way that is sure to capture your attention, Becker switches to a modern-day situation and a murder in an old house in Italy. A young British couple, Jackie and Mark Hampton, have bought their dream home and are renovating it. It is old, solid, made of stone and they love it. Tragically Jackie appears to have fallen down the stairs while her husband is away - after being discovered by the cleaner one morning. The truth of the matter is very different and, as we discover before the unfortunate cleaner does, she has actually been murdered by a group of men who are taking an unhealthy interest in a stone above the fireplace in her new home.
A devastated Mark Hampton rushes back to Italy and takes his friend Chris Bronson, a policeman, with him for support. They become immersed in trying to unravel the secrets inside the house and finding out who the intruders were, as well as what they wanted. Their search has them digging around in the history of the house as well as dodging the mafia, being labeled as murder suspects, and learning about an ancient Christian cult called the Cathars. Their search eventually leads them to Rome and is ultimately connected to the death of the mysterious old man held prisoner at the start of the book.
I absolutely loved this novel! It is particularly interesting as the author has carried out a vast amount of historical research, in order to get his facts straight. In places the degree of realism is such that it is hard to see when the facts end and the fiction starts. The book throws a huge, dirty question mark at the beginnings of early Christianity and has the potential to make you look hard at yourself and the truth of what you have been brought up to believe. Who are 'The Liars' mentioned on the stone above the Hampton's fireplace? Are they still lying today?
A truly amazing book. If you read nothing else this year, you must get hold of this!
Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland