A freelance assassin, an improbable money-laundering plot, a new eyewitness account of the ministry of Jesus Christ—they’re all here in this inventive but lumpy ragbag from the sometime chronicler of James Bond (Cold Fall, 1996, etc.).
Hours after she’s married retired spy Charlie Gauntlet, Det. Supt. Rebecca (“Bex”) Olesker is summoned from their nuptial bed to return to duty. There’s a hot lead on Alchemist, a terrorist-killer-for-hire who leaves Shakespearean calling cards on each of his corpses. If Bex would kindly follow dodgy Belfast lawyer Theresa Murray, she just may lead her to Alchemist. Done, says Bex wistfully, and she’s off to Ireland, and ultimately to the Continent, hoping her prey won’t turn on her in angry recognition. Back in London, Charlie, hardly noticing his bride’s absence, has been approached by Kit Palfrey, an Intelligence colleague long since discredited as a Soviet agent, who insists he was really on the Queen’s side, and anyway, he’s got a line on something amazing: a first-person account of Jesus’ final days written by one Naomi, a prostitute hired by the centurion Titus Romillius to get close to the rabble-rousing preacher. The double dose of intrigue is so rich that readers familiar with Gardner’s intricate non-Bonds won’t be able to resist the bait. But just what, apart from serving as “the mole in Christ’s citadel,” does Naomi the prostitute have to do with Alchemist’s latest assignment: killing the Russian president? Not a whole lot, it turns out—so each half of this generously, but ever more unconvincingly, plotted adventure is left to stand on its own, with the Alchemist story, predictable as it is, winning on points when the promised revelations about the Messiah turn out to reveal very little.
Along the way, Gardner, ever the professional, drops knowing hints about MI5, the New Russia, his favorite hero, Herbie Kruger—pretty much everybody in the author’s stable except 007.