An ancient text contains a shattering truth in this apocalyptic thriller.
Winter’s (Someone Else’s Son, 2013) tense, tightly plotted novel opens with an exceptionally effective dramatic hook: Two men—one Christian, one Muslim—perch in hidden spots on rooftops above Jerusalem’s Western Wall, patiently waiting for an elaborate ceremony to start. It’s a ceremony that has the attention of the entire world, as the pope, the U.S. president, and the leaders of Israel and Palestine plan to handle an ancient biblical text, the Codex of Aleppo, in a symbolic gesture of peace. Jerusalem will then formally become an international protectorate under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, thus resolving territorial controversies that have plagued the region for centuries. Both gunmen, spurred by fanatical visions, are prepared to stop it from happening—even at the cost of their own lives. As Winter ratchets up the tension leading to the climactic moment, he switches abruptly to the story of Cardinal Arnold Ford, who witnesses a man getting shot on the steps of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral; the man hands him a strange slip of paper before he dies. Ford, a craggy, magnetic, middle-aged black man, later meets the intriguing LeShana Thompkins, a New York police detective investigating the shooting. They both have hidden depths: The cardinal sees visions (one early scene in a confessional is particularly chilling), and the detective knows both the Hebrew language and the complicated history and significance of the Codex of Aleppo. As she relates this history to Ford, Winter interweaves chapters that richly evoke the various main characters’ pasts. The complicated plot resembles a pair of interlocking spirals, with Detective Thompkins’ revelations taking readers steadily further back in time and the gunmen’s parallel back stories bringing readers forward to the moment of the shooting. Winter’s command of his historical material is impressive, as is his skill at shaping his characters—particularly Ford and Thompkins, whose unfolding relationship is the best thing in the book. The textual mystery of the codex will please Dan Brown fans, and its execution is a significant step above that in The Da Vinci Code (2003).
A thrilling, satisfying and multilayered adventure story.