Here's something refreshing: a religious-historical thriller with a nifty Mobius strip of a plot—think Nancy Werlin channeling Dan Brown—serving up shivery suspense, sans fangs or fur.
Battered by family tragedy, high school senior Nora has been sleepwalking through life in her chilly New England town. Knowing her facility in Latin, Chris and his roommate, Max, talk her into helping translate letters relating to Edward Kelley, a prominent 16th-century alchemist. Sidelined into working on his daughter’s letters, Nora learns of the Lumen Dei (the alchemical MacGuffin), sought down the centuries by religious fanatics. Pairing up, Max and Nora form a bond with Chris and his girlfriend, Adriane, that’s severed when Chris is brutally murdered. Adriane, the only witness, is catatonic, and Max has vanished, leaving Nora on her own until Chris’s cousin Eli arrives to collect Chris’s effects and keep an eye on her. A cryptic message from Max sends Nora, joined by the semi-recovered Adriane and stalked by Eli, to the mean streets of Prague. The teen designation feels less content- than market-driven. While depictions of violence and sexuality are more muted than the title suggests, Nora’s sensibility, casual independence and vocabulary are entirely adult.
A classy read that repays reader effort. (historical note) (Thriller. 12 & up)