THE ALTAR OF BONES by Philip Carter


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Solzhenitsyn meets Dan Brown...sort of.

Deep in the boreal forests of Siberia, conveniently close to one of Stalin’s Gulag camps, lies a cave, and within it an unusual sight: “where it had always been, set into the wall: an ancient altar made out of human bones.” The attraction? Well, things happen before that altar that are downright miraculous, the kind of things that might attract miracle-seekers and power-thirsty types along the lines of that Nazi archaeologist in the first Indiana Jones movie. Naturally, bad things ensue, not least the disappearance of the last “Keeper” at the hands of a very bad NKVD agent, Nikolai Popov, “one tough bastard,” who exults that the cave’s contents are “more valuable than diamonds, more valuable than any make-believe chest of Romanov gold.” Of course: It would never do for a pussycat to be a stone cold commie killer, never do for a secret treasure to be anything less than splendid—or, at any rate worth more than a pretend treasure, whatever that means. Fast-forward 70 years, and now it’s the job of San Francisco legal eagle Zoe Dmitroff and her newfound pal Ry O’Malley, both resourceful and tough as nails, to figure out the altar’s secret even as bad guys—and one notably bad girl, bloody breasts and all—close in. Guess who wins? That part’s easy; it’s figuring out what Marilyn Monroe has to do with the proceedings that might make your head hurt. Carter—a pseudonym, the publisher promises, for “an internationally renowned author”—tells a competent and action-filled story, if one without much attention to detail. (Russians don’t speak with burrs, for instance, unless they’re Sean Connery in the film version of The Hunt for Red October.) There’s lots of sex, lots of violence, lots of meaningful glances across the room and lots of plot twists—all the requisites, in other words, of a by-the-numbers thriller.

It’s no Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s a pleasant-enough diversion.

Pub Date: March 18th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9908-4
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2011


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