In this debut novel spanning two millennia, a retired professor unearths an alternate history of Christianity.
Mackellan Kirby, professor emeritus of ancient religious studies, spends his retirement translating the Dead Sea Scrolls. He discovers that parts of the text have been redacted and believes the missing sections are in an earlier document, the “Testament of Ephes,” the contents of which would “rock Christianity to its foundations.” Kirby enlists his niece Fiona, a CIA agent, and nephew Joe to travel to Santiago de Compostela to find the item. They are followed by the Vatican and Sam Wardell, an ex–CIA agent and now a consultant for the Congregation of the Holy Baptism; both organizations want to stop Kirby from making the discovery public. Murphy weaves this present-day narrative with two historical plots. One, set at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, reveals the “conspiracy” at the heart of the novel: Jesus did not die on the cross. His brother James, with help from Judas and other Apostles, died in his place so that the Messiah could live. Jesus then traveled to Santiago, where he had children with Mary Magdalene. Ephes recorded these details in letters to his cousin. The second historical plot, set in the 11th century, concerns Darda, the bishop charged with constructing a new cathedral in Santiago. Darda uncovers, translates, copies, and conceals Ephes’ writing. Murphy’s story is elaborate and thoroughly researched. Through the fictitious collusion, she delves into myths and facts surrounding the Holy Grail, the Templar Knights, the Rosicrucians, pilgrimages to Santiago, and many other aspects of Christianity. The author also has her characters discuss books such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, perhaps pre-empting readers from making similar links. Plausibility is compromised, however, by flat characters. In particular, Kirby, Fiona, and Joe often seem mere vehicles for history lessons, delivered through long monologues. The few attempts at introspection seem forced; for example, Fiona “secretly hated how she always became verbally abusive when angry, but could just not stop herself.” As such, the story is pushed by plot points rather than pulled by emotional connections.
An ambitious and intriguing religious conspiracy tale that lacks convincing characters.