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ON THE THIRD DAY by Piers Paul Read


by Piers Paul Read

Pub Date: May 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-679-40089-3
Publisher: Random House

An engrossing mystery concerning the appearance of the skeleton of a crucified man in Jerusalem. Despite a burden of exposition, Read (A Season in the West, 1989, etc. etc.) adroitly works out his premises and explores their theological implications. Andrew Nash, a Simonite monk, is a young archaeologist. His mentor, John Lambert, a professor of biblical archaeology, is found dead, possibly a suicide. Shortly thereafter, Andrew and his colleagues come upon a crucified skeleton, supposedly Christ's, and posit that Lambert killed himself when his faith was destroyed. The portagonists are close-knit: Michael Dagan is the Israel archaeologist who originally finds the skeleton; Anna, Michael's daughter, helps Andrew look for evidence, and eventually becomes the monk's lover; and Henry, Andrew's brother, is also Anna's lover (before she leaves him for Andrew). Once the soap opera is in place, Read skillfully turns the novel into a religious and political mystery. Was Lambert murdered? Is the skeleton a hoax? Was it planted by the Jews, or by liberal theologians, or by the KGB, or—possibly—by the Romans, who wanted to promote Christianity because it was ``not of this world''? Despite some long-winded erudite conversations, Read strings the plot along and keeps up the suspense until we discover the perpetrator of the hoax: a fanatic Israeli colonel who wants both to short-circuit 20 centuries of Christian-tainted history and to assure continued support for Israel. Michael Dagan, forced to face his own guilt, destroys the skeleton; Henry Nash, an atheist, finds faith; and Andrew decides to leave the order and marry Anna, his true love. Read's 11th novel—an enthralling read—touches upon a number of current theological controversies without losing its tightly plotted tension.