Monday, December 11, 2006

Literature: Sign of the Cross by Chris Kuzneski

By page 60 of Chris Kuzneski’s Sign of the Cross, I was finally ready to declare the well of plots derived from Roman Catholic antiquity and intrigue most recently plumbed by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, had finally dried up. I thought it too dramatically convenient that it took Kuzneski’s Interpol agent, Nick Dial entirely too long to figure out the complete text of the Sign of the Cross, Signum Crucis - In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen, only discovering “The Ghost” (pre-Vatican II) in the nick of time (pun intended). I was also prepared to take Mr. Kuzneski to task for poorly formed characters too concerned with their faith in conflict with their intellect and was completely ready to complain about the procedural swashbuckling characters from Special Forces.

Then, I finished the book. And you know it was really pretty good.

To Kuzneski’s credit, he did not take the same road through the Languedoc, looking for the Holy Grail as did Steve Berry in The Templar Legacy, Raymond Khoury in The Last Templar, Kate Moss in her splendid Labyrinth, Javier Sierra in The Secret Supper, or Matilde Asensi in The Last Cato. These were all fine reads, but as each new book comes out, we are taken further from antiquity into stretched speculation, in a phrase, we readers are being asked to have too great a suspension of disbelief. Kuzneski’s tale has a well-kept secret, it just has less to do with Jesus Christ and more to do with his political handlers.

There are procedural elements in Sign of the Cross. There is a brilliant ancient history scholar form Dover College in England and his nubile, equally brilliant, student and the both of them poking around in Orvieto, Italy, seat of the Papacy during the sack of Rome in 1524. There are two American Special Ops spooks from Kuzneski’s previous book, The Plantation languishing in an Italian prison, liberated on the condition that they find a mysterious operative in the Vatican with a secret, failure meaning their recapture and possible execution. There is a thoughtful Interpol agent investigating a progressive series of crucifixions appearing three continents and a Texan Cardinal at the Vatican who has a big surprise for everyone. At the center of everything is a powerful and shadowy Italian family, whose ruthless patriarch possesses knowledge that will shake the foundation of not only Roman Catholicism, but of Christianity.

So gentle reader, before giving up on The Da Vinvi Code vein, give Sign of the Cross a read, and think of how Chris Kuzneski could have made a very good book even better.

This review was first published in

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006