Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Book Review: “The Last Gospel,” by David Gibbins.

The author is a quite accomplished archeologist, and the protagonist is a supremely accomplished, and supremely lucky archeologist. Art imitating life. Mr. Gibbins “has worked in underwater archeology all of his professional life;” he has a Ph.D. from Cambridge and has taught archeology in Britain “and abroad;” and he is a “world authority on ancient shipwrecks and sunken cities.” We find this out half-way into the first paragraph on the frontispiece, presented, as it were, as the most important information in the book.

The protagonist, Jack Howard, makes it all look very easy as he exceeds the accomplishments of Mr. Gibbins by leaps and bounds. In this volume, 500 plus pages, 150,000 words or so, he: 1) discovers the remains of the wreck of St. Paul’s ship, which sank off the coast of Sicily in about the year 50 AD; 2) intuits the location of and actually finds and enters the library of the Emperor Claudius in Herculaneum, discovering in the process that Claudius had not actually died by poison in 54 AD or so, but had actually faked his own death so that he could retire in peace (the library has miraculously survived virtually intact the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the ensuing 2,000 years); 3) intuits the location of, finds and enters the actual tomb of Queen Boudica of the Brits, intact and undiscovered beneath the streets of central London, her red hair still flowing wild, her fabulous gold treasure undisturbed; 4) is taken to and examines a perfect replica of a villa in the style of Romanized Brits which has secretly existed in Santa Paula, California for almost one hundred years; and 5) attends a meeting in the actual tomb of St. Paul, which unbeknownst to virtually anyone is under St. Peter’s in Rome, somewhat next to the tomb of St. Peter himself. I haven’t finished the book yet, I’m sure he will distinguish himself further. He is stumbling across these intermediate triumphs on his quest for the lost Gospel of Christ, in the great man’s own handwriting.

The book is very full of exposition in a pseudo-academic style. Much of it is clumsily introduced, as in “tell me more about Queen Boudica, Jack.” It was good information, though, and I enjoyed learning some details of archeology that have escaped me all of these years.

There are girls in the book, but so far no one has been kissed. There are guns in the book, but so far only one has gone off, hitting nothing. There has been some tension in the narrative, but I can recall episodes of the George Reeves “Superman” television series that had more drama in them. I’m not complaining really, I’m enjoying it, it’s a quick read, the sentences and paragraphs are tolerably well constructed, I’m traveling this week and it is a perfectly good “Railway Novel.”

You could do worse on a long flight.

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