Corporate attorney Susan Graves is busy closing her last deal for her law firm before she can retire and enjoy life with her husband, Steven. When a stranger with the odd name Dr. Eusebius Cahokia visits her at work, she thinks he might simply be a kook. However, the kook turns out to be one of her biblical archaeology professors from graduate school. While digging at a remote site in Maine, he uncovered a mysterious box of documents written in different ancient languages, a date of 1307 on the hasp. While balancing the responsibilities of her job, Susan enlists the help of her husband, friends and colleagues to try to determine whether the documents are authentic, how old they are and what they mean. Their quest for answers intersects with that of two Japanese men who have similar documents; one of them happens to own the land where the box was found. Yet the more questions are answered, the more mysteries seem to appear, and when people connected to the documents start winding up dead, finding the truth becomes a matter of life or death. Freiburg has created an elaborate story replete with historical details. With few exceptions, his characters are remarkably erudite—to a fault, some readers may think. For example, Susan’s seemingly photographic memory of history is evident when she rattles off facts—it was “Ammonius Saccas who taught Plotinus,” “Rufinus, who updated the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius around 400 CE,” “Hypsicratea…the historian who was the sixth wife of King Mithradates VI of Pontus”—as easily as she orders a glass of A to Z Pinot Noir. The attention to detail is impressive, although the sheer amount tends to weigh down the plot. With international flights, hotel stays at the Pierre and the Fours Seasons, and dinners at Le Bernardin and Daniel, the characters’ jet-set lifestyles may push the bounds of believability. Nevertheless, religious history and archaeology buffs will find plenty to sate their appetites. Others, however, will be stymied by the surfeit of details and leisurely pace in the 500-plus-page story.
An ambitious debut long on history, short on thrills.