The Ark of the Covenant represents a tantalizing prize (yes, again!) in this suspense melodrama from the Spanish author of God’s Spy (2007).
There’s an echo of Raiders of the Lost Ark in the Nazi who opens the story, the “genocidal monster” who performed lethal experiments on Jewish children, one of whose brothers escaped to America. Years later in 2006, Raymond Kayn, now a reclusive New York billionaire, sends Father Anthony Fowler (ex-CIA, now Vatican Secret Service) to Austria to retrieve a family heirloom from the ancient Nazi. It contains a scroll that details the location of the Ark in the Jordanian desert. Kahn also commissions a Spanish journalist, Andrea Otero, to cover the top-secret expedition. (Fowler and Otero are holdovers from God’s Spy, and Kahn needs them both at the site. Exactly why is murky.) There are so many characters they all but trip over each other, and there’s no one narrator to hold everything together; curiously, it’s the brash lesbian Andrea who gets the most attention. The unwieldy expedition arrives in the desert, unaware that Islamic terrorists have preceded them. They are following the orders of shadowy mastermind Huqan, a double agent; when his identity’s finally revealed, it’s sheer unforeshadowed silliness. But he keeps it moving! If the author knows nothing else, he knows how to do that, cross-cutting between the desert and Washington, where a sleuth is on Huqan’s trail. Too bad he dispels the suspense with a chapter heading proclaiming the expedition a disaster. Still, the intrigues continue. Kahn, Fowler and the Vatican—they all have their hidden agendas. Then there’s the irrelevant melodrama: the evil Colombian security guard who sets scorpions on Andrea and killer ants on Fowler, the jihadist in Washington who tortures the sleuth with skewers. As the team closes in on the Ark, bombs go off and bodies pile up and a horrendous sandstorm claims the rest.
A second novel that has the trappings of suspense fiction but none of its substance.