In Gratsias’ debut historical thriller, an anthropologist learns that his family may be linked to a decadeslong war between good and evil.
Dr. Matthias Adkins, head of the University of Colorado’s sociocultural anthropology research department, makes a shocking discovery in his grandmother’s attic. A hidden box that belonged to his late grandfather Thomas contains a photo of an unknown German naval officer, an Iron Cross, and a leather notebook with codes and symbols. He and his live-in girlfriend, Linda, identify the officer as Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, who was executed in 1945 for working against the Nazi regime, while Thomas’ codes and riddles take Matthias to Boston, Argentina and France. It seems that Matthias is destined to join the Phoenix Order—a secret group created by Canaris—to protect the order’s sacred relics. Matthias needs to find the hidden relics, but he must first elude the Sanctum, an evil society tied to the Nazi Party. In Gratsias’ historically rich mystery/thriller, watching Matthias and Linda decrypt Thomas’ coded messages is both enjoyable and intriguing (the codes certainly aren’t easy to solve), while the Sanctum’s Albert Moreno, a killer who targets Matthias, is an unsettling character made even creepier by the mystery obscuring him (Albert isn’t even his real name). The story’s pliable timeline—moving from the end of World War II to the late 1980s to 2008—complements Matthias’ global trek, as the Sanctum tracks down key members of the Phoenix Order. The narrative does unfortunately become a bit confusing when names and dates are muddled: Matthias’ birthday is initially in May but later given as January; his surname alternates between Adkins and Atkins; his grandmother’s name changes from Carolyn to Caroline and then to Cynthia, which is also his mother’s name; and Thomas’ year of death is noted as both 1988 and 1978. Gratsias clarifies a number of historical references via footnotes, while the abundance of newspaper articles, websites and Wikipedia entries that characters, particularly Matthias and Linda, peruse are properly cited, also in footnotes. The ending offers a resolution, but the Phoenix Order’s expansive background is a literary hotbed for sequels.
A myriad of codes and riddles provide a solid amount of enjoyment for fans of mysteries or espionage thrillers.