Sprung from real-life details about the Scout movement’s founder, this tense thriller is the first in a series concerning the hunt for a string of wooden beads that possess magical powers.
Parsons, an orthopedic surgeon, mingles fact with fiction to concoct the story of ancient beads—a Boer War trophy for Lord Baden-Powell—becoming the albatross around the neck of a modern-day doctor, who finds himself tracked by murderous Zulus. The fast-paced story combines such disparate subjects as Zulu ritual, orthopedic procedure, the Department of Homeland Security and the Boy Scouts. In Memphis, 2005, Dr. David Freeman, a descendant of Baden-Powell’s (fictional) camp surgeon, is in the last months of his residency. A dying WWII veteran insists Freeman take his bead and keep it safe—for good reason, as other second-generation bead-keepers are being beheaded for their talismans. This gruesome fact sets two DHS agents on Freeman’s tail to both protect him and use him as bait to catch the mysterious Zulu pursuers. A flashback to the Boy Scout Jamboree of 1967 fills in the reason for the attacks, although explanation—and demonstration—of the beads’ magical powers hold off for a future installment. The suspense builds as threats, break-ins, news of further deaths and a kidnapping all take Freeman and his girlfriend, Pam Blanchard, perilously close to their own decapitation ritual. The fate of the beads is as gripping as the couple’s. Although Parsons’ writing shines during scenes at the hospital, Freeman comes across as a rather disingenuous doctor who’s lucky to have a resourceful, intelligent girlfriend. Other quibbles include the Arab-American agent’s unnecessary and grating broken English, as well as the disconcerting use of terms that may come across as racially charged. Still, many readers will eagerly await the next book in the series, which will reveal more about the mysterious necklace and its ancient powers.
A somewhat predictable but engrossing read with a Da Vinci Code–style central mystery.